Free Press

We spend countless hours exposed to television, radio, CDs, books, newspapers, magazines, billboards and the Internet. These media inform our ideas and opinions, our values and our beliefs. They reflect and influence our culture through arts and entertainment. Media must not be considered just another business: they are special institutions in our society. They play a vital role shaping citizens' understanding of social and political issues and functioning as gatekeepers through which issues, people, and events must pass. Information is the lifeblood of democracy - and when viewpoints are cut off and ideas cannot find an outlet, democracy suffers.

People from all backgrounds and political beliefs are concerned about the state of our media system. Many citizens complain that news media have drifted toward 'infotainment' and that local interests and standards aren't adequately represented by local media. Others complain that entire segments of our population are under- or misrepresented in the media, and still others note that broadcast content has coarsened. Whatever the complaint, however, one thing is for certain: There are underlying structural issues at work that give rise to these problems. Attacking a single symptom - such as programming some might say is indecent - does not cure the disease. We must look deeper at the root causes - and solve them.

> Media Ownership List

Today, a handful of international corporations control almost everything you see, hear, and read. This is by no means an accident. Conscious, corrupt government policy made behind closed doors has seen media ownership rules relaxed and accountability to the public interest virtually eliminated. The maxim goes: if you let them, they will merge; and merge they do, narrowing the range of debate, focusing on celebrity over policy, reducing elections to horse races, stifling minority viewpoints, and barraging us with advertising.

This list is primarily based on information from Columbia Journalism Review's Who Owns What? site, one of the many excellent resources on the web regarding media ownership.

..2003 revenues: $134.2 billion. Holdings include:

GE recently acquired many of the highest-profile media properties previously held by Vivendi: NBC, Paxson Communications (PAX), Telemundo Communications Group

TV Stations: Fourteen NBC television stations - WVTM (Birmingham, AL), KXAS (Dallas, TX), WMAQ (Chicago, IL), WCMH (Columbus, OH), WVIT (Hartford, CT), KNBC (Los Angeles, CA), WTVJ (Miami, FL), WNBC (New York, NY), WCAU (Philadelphia, PA), WJAR (Providence, RI), WNCN (Raleigh, NC), KNSD (San Diego, CA), WRC (Washington, DC), KNTV (San Jose, CA) - as well as 14 local Telemundo stations
Cable: Telemundo, Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC (partial ownership, with Microsoft), mun2, Sci-Fi Channel, TRIO, USA Network, CNBC Europe, CNBC Asia-Pacific, Telemundo Internacional, NBC Europe, plus 8 other channels in Europe and Latin America under the Sci-Fi, 13th Street, Studio Universal, and USA brands
Production & Distribution: NBC Universal Television Studio, NBC Universal Television Distribution (owners of more than 4,000 feature films and more than 40,000 episodes of television programming), Universal Studios Home Video
Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment, Tribeca Films, Shady Acres, The Kennedy/Marshall Company, Double Feature Films, Playtone Company, Strike Entertainment, Type A Films, Depth of Field, Stephen Sommers, Working Title Films (Europe), Focus Features Universal
Parks & Resorts: Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal CityWalk, Universal Orlando (Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, the 30-acre CityWalk entertainment complex, Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, and Royal Pacific Resort), Wet-n-Wild Orlando, Universal Studios Japan + CityWalk, Universal Mediterranea (Spain, includes Universal Mediterranea Theme Park, Hotel Port Aventura)
Military Production: Manufactures engines for the F-16 Fighter jet, Abrams tank, Apache helicopter, U2 Bomber, Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV), A-10 aircraft, and numerous military equipment including planes, helicopters, tanks, and more.
GE Consumer Finance: Provider of credit services to consumers, retailers and auto dealers in over 35 countries
GE Commercial Finance: GE Capital Aviation Services, GE Commercial Equipment Financing, GE Corporate Financial Services, GE Structured Finance Global Energy Unit, GE Fleet Services, GE Healthcare Financial Services, GE Real Estate, GE Vendor Financial Services
GE Advanced Materials: Engineering of thermoplastics, silicon-based products and technology platforms, and fused quartz and ceramics
GE Consumer & Industrial: Appliances, lighting, and Industrial Systems
GE Energy: Technology for the oil and gas, power generation and energy management industries, including nuclear
GE Healthcare: Diagnostic and interventional medical imaging, information and services technology
GE Infrastructure: Comprised of GE Water Technologies, GE Silicones, GE Superabrasives, and GE Quartz, serves various industries including cosmetics, semi-conductors, oil drilling, construction and telecommunications
GE Insurance: Insurance and investment products for businesses and individuals
GE Transportation: Serving the aviation, rail, marine and off-highway industries with jet engines for military and civil aircraft, freight and passenger locomotives, motorized systems for mining trucks and drills, and gas turbines for marine and industrial application

2003 revenues: $39.6 billion. Holdings include:

TV Network: The WB
Cable Channels: HBO, CNN (and all variants, e.g. Headlines News, Airport Network, fn, International, Airport), TBS, Turner South, TNT, Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies, CourtTV (in part)
Time Warner Cable: Including cable service and RoadRunner broadband access
Production/Distribution: Warner Bros, Warner Bros Studios, WB Television (production), WB TV Animation, Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Telepictures Productions, Witt-Thomas Productions, Castle Rock Entertainment, Warner Home Video, WB Pay-TV, WB domestic & int'l TV distribution, New Line Cinema, Fine Line Features, Turner Original Productions
Movie Theatres: Warner Bros. International Theaters (owns/operates multiplex theaters in over 12 countries)
Other: New York 1 News, International holdings
Warner Music Group: Atlantic (incl. Classics, Jazz, Nashville, & Theatre labels), Big Beat, Blackground, Breaking, Igloo, Lava, Mesa/Bluemoon, Modern, 1 43, Rhino Records, Elektra Entertainment Group, Elektra, EastWest, Asylum, Elektra/Sire, Warner Brothers Records, Warner Brothers, Warner Nashville, Warner Alliance, Warner Resound, Warner Sunset, Reprise, Reprise Nashville, American Recordings, Giant, Maverick, Revolution, Qwest, Warner Music International, WEA Telegram, East West ZTT, Coalition, CGD East West, China, Continential, DRO East West, Erato, Fazer, Finlandia, Magneoton, MCM, Nonesuch, Teldec
Other Recording Interests: Warner/Chappell Music (publishing company), WEA Inc. (sales, distribution and manufacturing), Ivy Hill Corporation (printing and packaging), Warner Special Products
Time-Life Books: Time-Life Int'l, Time-Life Education, Time-Life Music, Time-Life Audiobooks, Book-of-the-Month Club, Paperback Book Club, Children's Book-of-the-Month Club, History Book Club, Money Book Club, HomeStyle Books, Crafter's Choice, One Spirit, International, Little, Brown and Company, Bulfinch Press, Back Bay Books, Little, Brown and Company (U.K.), Warner Books, Warner Vision, The Mysterious Press, Warner Aspect, Warner Treasures, Oxmoor House (subsidiary of Southern Progress Corporation), Leisure Arts, Sunset Books, TW Kids, Leisure Arts
Magazines: Time (incl. Time for Kids, Int'l versions, etc.), Fortune, Business 2.0, Life, Sports Illustrated (and variants), Inside Stuff, Money, Your Company, Your Future, People, (and variants), Who Weekly, Entertainment Weekly, The Ticket, InStyle, Southern Living, Progressive Farmer, Southern Accents, Cooking Light, The Parent Group (Parenting, Baby Talk, Baby on the Way), This Old House, Sunset, Sunset Garden Guide, The Health Publishing Group (Health, Hippocrates, Coastal Living, Weight Watchers), Real Simple, Asiaweek (Japan), President (Japan), Dancyu (Japan), Wallpaper (UK), Field & Stream, Freeze, Golf Magazine, Outdoor Life, Popular Science, Saltwater Sportsman, Ski, Skiing Magazine, Skiing Trade News, SNAP, Snowboard Life, Ride BMX, Today's Homeowner, Transworld Skateboarding & Snowboarding, Verge, Yachting Magazine, Warp, partial ownership of American Express Publishing (Travel & Liesure, Food & Wine, Departures, SkyGuide), Mad Magazine
Comic Books: DC Domics, Vertigo, Paradox, MilestoneAOL: America Online, AOL Instant Messenger, AOL.com portal, AOL Europe, AOL MovieFone
Other: Netscape Communications, Netscape Netcenter portal, Winamp, CompuServe Interactive, ICQ, theknot.com (8%), MapQuest.com (pending), Spinner.com, iAmaze, Amazon.com (partial), Quack.com, Streetmail (partial), Switchboard (6%), DrKoop.com, Legend (Chinese, 49%), Africana.com Services: Road Runner, Warner Publisher Services, Time Distribution Services, American Family Publishers (50%), Pathfinder
Retail: Warner Bros. Stores & Products
Theme Parks: Warner Brothers Recreation Enterprises
Sports: Atlanta Braves, Hawks, Thrashers, Goodwill Games, Turner Sports, Philips Arena
Misc: Turner Learning, CNN Newsroom (for classrooms), Turner Adventure Learning (electronic field trips), Turner Home Satellite, Turner Network Sales

2003 revenues: 25.5 billion Euro ($30.1 billion). Holdings include:

Vivendi Universal recently sold its cable and movie properties (Universal Pictures, Sci-Fi Channel, and USA Network) to GE/NBC.

TV Production & Distribution: CANAL+ (51%, European pay-TV provider), Brillstein-Grey Entertainment (50%, production), Multimedia Entertainment, plus partial ownership of: HBO Asia Telecine (Brazil) Cinecanal (Latin America), Showtime (Australia) Star Channel (Japan), Telepiu (Italian pay television)
Movie Production & Distribution: October Films (majority interest), United International Pictures (33% - international distribution), Cinema International BV (49% - video distribution)
Theatres: Cineplex Odeon (42%), Cinema International Corporation (49%), United Cinemas International (49%)
Universal Music Group: MCA Records, MCA Records Nashville, Polygram, Motown, Decca Records, Deutsche Grammophon, GRP Recording Company, Geffen/DGC Records, Universal Records, Rising Tide, Interscope Records, Hip-O Records, Universal Music and Video Distribution, Universal Music International, MCA Music Publishing, Interscope Music Publishing, All Nations Catalog, Universal Concerts (concert promotion)
IT Production: Universal Studios New Media Group, Universal Studios Online, Vivendi Universal Games (software and video games), Universal Digital Arts, Interplay (majority ownership - video game producer), Vizzavi (European multi-access portal)
Websites: Education.com, Flipside.com, GetMusic (online music retailer), @viso (50% with Softbank), Allocin, Bonjour.fr, Ad2-One, Atmedica, Scoot, EMusic.com, Duet (with Sony), MP3.com Telecom: Vivendi Telecom International, Cegetel (leading private land-line operator in France), SFR (leading private mobile operator in France), Maroc Telecom (35% owner of leading land-line and mobile operator in Morocco)
Retail: Spencer Gifts
Misc: Vivendi Environnement (the world's #1 water distributor), Viventures (venture capital fund), Duet (music-subscription service with Yahoo! and Sony)
Other: Vivendi Universal also owns 26.8 million shares in TimeWarner

2003 revenues: $28.4 billion. Holdings include:

TV Networks: ABC
Cable Channels: ABC Family, The Disney Channel, Toon Disney, SoapNet, ESPN Inc. (80%, includes ESPN & ESPN2, ESPN News, ESPN Now, ESPN Extreme, Classic Sports Network, ESPNHD), A&E Television (37.5%, with Hearst and GE), The History Channel (with Hearst and GE), Lifetime Television (50%, with Hearst), Lifetime Movie Network (50% with Hearst), E! Entertainment (with Comcast and Liberty Media)
Local TV Stations: 10 stations including KABC (Los Angeles), WABC (New York City), WLS (Chicago), WJRT (Flint), KFSN (Fresno), KTRK (Houston), WPVI (Philadelphia), WTVD (Raleigh-Durham), KGO (San Francisco), WTVG (Toledo) Radio Disney, ESPN Radio (syndicated programming)
International TV Broadcast: The Disney Channel UK, The Disney Channel Taiwan, The Disney Channel Australia, The Disney Channel Malaysia, The Disney Channel France, The Disney Channel Middle East, The Disney Channel Italy, The Disney Channel Spain, ESPN INC. International Ventures, Sportsvision of Australia (25%), ESPN Brazil (50%), ESPN STAR (50%) - sports programming throughout Asia, Net STAR (33%) owners of The Sports Network of Canada
Over 60 local radio stations: WKHX (Atlanta), WYAY (Atlanta), WDWD (Atlanta), WMVP (Chicago), WLS (Chicago), WZZN (Chicago), WRDZ (Chicago), WBAP (Dallas), KSCS (Dallas), KMEO (Dallas), KESN (Dallas), KMKI (Dallas), WDRQ (Detroit), WJR (Detroit), WDVD (Detroit), KABC (Los Angeles), KLOS (Los Angeles), KDIS (Los Angeles), KSPN (Los Angeles), KQRS (Minneapolis - St. Paul), KXXR (Minneapolis - St. Paul), KDIZ (Minneapolis - St. Paul), WGVX (Minneapolis - St. Paul), WGVY (Minneapolis - St. Paul), WGVZ (Minneapolis - St. Paul), WABC (New York City), WPLJ (New York City), WQEW (New York City), WEVD (New York City), KGO (San Francisco), KSFO (San Francisco), KIID (Sacramento), KMKY (Oakland), WMAL (Washington DC), WJZW (Washington DC), WRQX (Washington DC), KQAM (Wichita), KKDZ (Seattle), WSDZ (St. Louis), WWMK (Cleveland), KMIX (Phoenix), KADZ (Denver), KDDZ (Denver), WWMI (Tampa), KMIC (Houston), WMYM (Miami), WWJZ (Philadelphia), WMKI (Boston), WDZK (Hartford), WDDZ (Providence), WDZY (Richmond), WGFY (Charlotte), WDYZ (Orland), WMNE (West Palm Beach), WEAE (Pittsburgh), WDRD (Louisville), WPPY (Albany), NY), KPHN (Kansas City), WQUA (Mobile), WBML (Jacksonville), WFDF (Flint), WFRO (Fremont), OH), WDMV (Damascus), MD), WHKT (Norfolk)
TV Production & Distribution: Buena Vista Television, Touchstone Television, Walt Disney Television, Walt Disney Television Animation
Movie Production & Distribution: Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Caravan Pictures, Miramax Films, Buena Vista Home Video, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Buena Vista International
IT Production/Development:
Disney Interactive, ABC Internet Group, ESPN Internet Group
Websites: ABC.com, ABCNews.com, Oscar.com, Disney.com, Family.com, ESPN.com, Soccernet.co (60%), NFL.com, NBA.com, NASCAR.com, Toysmart.com (partial), Go Network
Other: Mr. Showbiz, Disney's Daily Blast, Skillgames, Wall of Sound
Music: Buena Vista Music Group, Hollywood Records (popular music and soundtracks for motion pictures), Lyric Street Records (Nashville based country music label), Mammoth Records (popular and alternative music label), Walt Disney Records
Book Publishing: Walt Disney Company Book Publishing, Hyperion Books, Miramax Books
Magazine Groups: ABC Publishing Group, Disney Publishing, Inc., Diversified Publications Group, Financial Services and Medical Group, Miller Publishing Company
Magazines: Automotive Industries, Biography (w/ GE and Hearst), Discover, Disney Adventures, Disney Magazine, ECN News, ESPN Magazine (dist. by Hearst), Family Fun, Institutional Investor, JCK, Kentucky Prairie Farmer, Kodin, Top Famille (French), US Weekly (50%), Video Business, Quality
Theatrical Productions: Walt Disney Theatrical Productions (productions include stage version of The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, King David)
Theme Parks & Resorts: Disneyland (Anaheim), Disney-MGM Studios, Disneyland Paris, Disney Regional Entertainment (entertainment and theme dining in metro areas), Disneyland Resort, Disney Vacation Club, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland (partial ownership), Walt Disney World (Orlando, FL, includes Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Sports Complex, etc.), Disney's Animal Kingdom, Disney Cruise Line, The Disney Institute
Sports: Anaheim Sports, Inc., Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (NHL)
Retail: The Disney Store
Financial: Sid R. Bass crude petroleum and natural gas production (partial interest)

2003 revenues: $26.6 billion. Holdings include:

TV Networks: CBS, UPN
Cable Channels: MTV, MTV2. Nickelodeon, BET, Nick at Nite, TV Land, NOGGIN, TNN, VH1, Spike TV, CMT, Comedy Central, Showtime, The Movie Channel, Flix, Sundance Channel
Local Stations: Over 35 local TV stations, including WCBS in New York and KCBS in Los Angeles
Production & Distribution: Spelling Television, Big Ticket Television, King World Productions Production Companies: Paramount Pictures, MTV Films, Nickelodeon Movies, BET Films, Paramount Home Entermatainment
Other: United Cinemas Int'l (50%), Famous Players theatre chain, Blockbuster Video, Infinity
Broadcasting: Over 175 AM and FM stations located in 22 states in the nation's largest markets
Publishing: Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books, Scribner, The Free Press, Fireside, Touchstone, Washington Square Press, Archway, Minstrel, Pocket Pulse
The Viacom Outdoor Group: TDI Worldwide, Westwood One
Themeparks: Paramount Theme Parks
Music: Famous Music (100,000+ copyrights)
Internet: MTVi Group, CBS Internet Group, Nickelodeon Online, BET.com

2003 revenues: 16.8 billion Euro ($19.8 billion). Holdings include:

TV Networks: 11 across Europe
Radio Networks: 8 across Europe
Production & Distribution: 260 programs reaching 250+ million viewers worldwide. Largest non-U.S. TV distributor in the world.
Random House Publishing, which includes: Alfred A. Knopf, Ballantine, Bantam Dell Publishing Group, Broadway, Crown Publishing Group, Doubleday, Pantheon, Random House UK, Transworld, Sudamericana, C. Bertelsmann, Karl Blessing Verlag, Goldmann, Siedler Verlag, Wolf Jobst Sielder Verlag, Plaza & Janes (50%), Grijalbo Mondadori (50%)
Magazines: U.S.-Family Circle, Fast Company, Inc., Fitness Parents, YM. Europe- 20 additional titles.
Newspapers: 5 newspapers in Germany and Eastern Europe
Music (under subsidiary Gruner+Jahr BMG): Arista Records, BMG Ariola, BMG Canada, BMG Japan, BMG Ricordi, BMG U.K. & Ireland, Jive Records, Milan Records, RCA Records, RCA Label Group - Nashville, RCA Victor Group, Tablao, Windham Hill, Zomba Music Group. Bertelsmann owns copyrights to more than 700,000 songs
Arvato AG: Printing, services (incl. logistics, multimedia and IT), calendar publishing, specialty publishing, storage media, and "knowledge management"
DirectGroup: Direct-to-consumer media commerce of Bertelsmann AG, such as book clubs, music clubs and eCommerce

2003 revenues: $17.5 billion. Holdings include:

Satellite: DirecTV (largest US Satellite TV provider), BskyB (UK), FOXTel (Australia), Phoenix Television (China), Sky Italia (Italy)
Cable: Fox News Channel, Fox Movie Channel, FX, National Geographic Channel, SPEED Channel, Fox Sports Net, Fox Sports (17 local/regional cable stations), Sunshine Network, Madison Square Garden Network, FOXTEL, SKYPerfecTV, STAR, Stream
Local stations: 34 stations including 2 each in NY, LA, and Chicago.
Movies: 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox Television Studios
Newspapers: U.S.- New York Post. U.K.- News International, News of the World, The Sun, The Sunday Times, The Times of London. Australasia- Daily Telegraph, Fiji Times, Gold Coast Bulletin, Herald Sun, Newsphotos, Newspix, Newstext, NT News, Post-Courier, Sunday Herald Sun, Sunday Mail, Sunday Tasmanian, Sunday Territorian, Sunday Times, The Advertiser, The Australian, The Courier-Mail, The Mercury, The Sunday Telegraph, Weekly Times
Magazines: InsideOut, donna hay, SmartSource, The Weekly Standard, TV Guide (partial)
Books: Harper Collins Publishers, Regan Books, Zondervan Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Knicks (partial ownership), New York Rangers (partial ownership), Los Angeles Kings (partial ownership), Los Angeles Lakers (partial ownership)
Music: Festival Records, Mushroom Record
Misc: Dodger Stadium, Staples Center (partial ownership), Madison Square Garden (partial ownership) National Rugby League (Australia),
Fox Sports Radio Network, Broadsystem, Fox Interactive, NDS, News Interactive, News Outdoor, Nursery World

> The Problems of Corporate Media Ownership in the U.S.

1. A handful of companies dominate. Five media conglomerates — Viacom, Disney, Time Warner, News Corp. and NBC/GE — control the big four networks (70% of the prime time television market share), most cable channels, vast holdings in radio, publishing, movie studios, music, Internet, and other sectors. [Consumers Union/Parents Television Council]

2. Big Media are a powerful special interest in Washington. Media companies intent upon changing the FCC media ownership rules have spent nearly $100 million on lobbying in the last 4 years. FCC officials have taken more than 2,500 industry-sponsored junkets since 1995, at a pricetag of $2.8 million. [Common Cause, Center for Public Integrity]

3. Consolidation fosters inferior educational programming. After Viacom purchased the independent KCAL in Los Angeles, children's programming plunged 89%, dropping from 26 hours per week in 1998 to three hours in 2003 (the minimum requirement set by Congress). TV stations air programs like NFL Under the Helmet and Saved by the Bell, claiming they meet educational programming requirements. [Children Now, FCC]

4. Cable rates are skyrocketing. Cable companies lobbied for and won deregulation in 1996, arguing that it would lower prices. Since then, cable rates have been rising at three times the rate of inflation. On average, rates have risen by 50%; in New York City, they've risen by 93.7%. [US PIRG]

5. Big Media profit from a money-dominated campaign finance system. In 2002, television stations earned more than $1 billion from political advertising — more than they earned from fast food and automotive ads. You were four times more likely to see a political ad during a TV news broadcast than an election-related news story. [Alliance for Better Campaigns]

6. Big Media use the public's airwaves at no charge. The total worth of the publicly-owned airwaves that U.S. broadcasters utilize has been valued at $367 billion — more than many nations' GDPs — but the public has never been paid a dime in return. And the broadcasters claim they can't afford to be accountable to the public interest! [Alliance for Better Campaigns]

7. Independent voices are fading. Since 1975, two-thirds of independent newspaper owners have disappeared, and one-third of independent television owners have vanished. Only 281 of the nation's 1,500 daily newspapers remain independently owned, and more than half of all U.S. markets are one-newspaper towns. [Writers Guild of America, East; Consumer Federation of America]

8. Consolidation is killing local radio. The number of radio station owners has plummeted by 34% since 1996, when ownership rules were gutted. That year, the largest radio owners controlled fewer than 65 stations; today, radio giant Clear Channel alone owns over 1,200. [FCC]

9. Consolidation threatens minority media ownership. Minority ownership — a crucial source of diverse and varied viewpoints — is at a 10-year low, down 14% since 1997. Today, only 4% of radio stations and 1.9% of television stations are minority-owned. [Writers Guild of America, East]

10. The free flow of idea and information is being stymied. No copyrighted work created after 1922 has entered the public domain — an incubator for new ideas — due to corporate-sponsored legislation extending copyright terms. If laws being considered today had been in effect a few generations ago, you wouldn't have access to products such as VCRs and copy machines. [U.S. Copyright Office, FCC, Electronic Frontier Foundation]

> What's at stake

A popular myth is that our media system developed naturally through "market forces." Indeed, market forces had a role to play in getting us to where we are today, but these market forces only act within a set of "ground rules" that are always changing. Our media system is the direct result of conscious policy that determines how the 'media game' is played. The key players that make the rules include: the Federal Communications Commission, Congress and the President, the courts, local government, industry lobbies, and public interest groups. When communications policy is made, legislators are making choices. Who do new laws and regulations benefit? Do they benefit the information needs of democracy, ensuring thorough debate on a wide range of issues between diverse and antagonistic views? Or do they benefit the bottom-line needs of large communications conglomerates alone?

Last summer, the FCC relaxed media ownership rules that allowed Big Media conglomerates to grow even bigger. In so doing, they set off a firestorm of protest. Americans stood up because they are angry that a small group of powerful corporations are being handed even more control of the most vital element of our democracy: our access to information. They are outraged that media policy has for so long been made by special interests behind closed doors ... without the public interest in mind. But even bigger challenges lie ahead. Next year, Congress will consider landmark legislation that will have implications well beyond media ownership. It will determine who controls access to information on the Internet, the use of the public airwaves, the ways you can (and cannot) use information once you have it, and beyond. The stakes are quickly getting much higher:

* Gone are the days of mere “media giants.” Tomorrow’s mergers will create enormous “conduit giants” - principal gatekeepers through which all other media outlets (independent and corporate alike, including on the Web) would need to pass before reaching the public. This is far too much power for one company to possess, but this is the future face of media consolidation.

* Access to information and the ability to innovate on the Internet is under threat. Right now, companies who own the wires through which citizens receive cable and broadband access are not allowed to discriminate against any kind of content. This means that you can see whatever content you desire over the Internet. Large cable companies and others are lobbying to shut this free flow of information and ideas down by gaining the ability to discriminate over their wires. This could mean that only technologies cable providers see as profitable will make it into citizen hands. It could mean that websites with certain viewpoints load slower than ‘approved’ partner websites - if they load at all.

* Community control over monopoly cable providers is under threat. As communities realize that they can provide cheaper and better cable and Internet service via “municipal networks” - making Internet access available as a public utility, like water - corporate interests are fighting tooth and nail to eliminate this new competition. In the past, legislators spoke of “universal access” to telecommunications services - the idea that all citizens have the right to communicate. In tomorrow’s media, this ability may go only to those who are able to pay for it.

* The public airwaves could be taken out of citizens’ hands entirely. In the past, the airwaves were regulated by “licensing” them to avoid interference. Today, new technologies make it possible for many users to share the same frequencies at the same time without interfering with each other, so there’s room for many more voices on the public airwaves. Corporate interests have other plans, pressuring legislators to privatize the airwaves entirely (by giving permanent ‘squatters rights’ to those who use them already) so that they can be bought and sold on the “free market.” Only immensely wealthy corporations would control how the airwaves can ultimately be used this way.

* Digital broadcasters stand to make incredible profits over the public airwaves with no accountability to the public interest. Over the next few years, television broadcasters will begin broadcasting digitally. This means that in the ‘airwave space’ it used to take to broadcast ABC, NBC or CBS, broadcasters will now be able to fit six or more stations - ABC-1, ABC-2, and so forth. This opens up countless new revenue streams, and indeed, plans are already in the works to have infomercial-driven new channels pump up corporate profits. Unless broadcasters are held accountable to the public interest, all these new networks will only serve corporate profits.

* Your ability to use information you receive is under attack. Corporate interests argue that the Constitutional premise of balancing the needs of creators with the needs of the public should be abolished in favor of permanent property rights - basically eliminating the principles that brought us libraries, used book and record stores, collaborative invention, and the ability to share ideas altogether. Copyright law needs to be brought back under control to serve the purpose for which it was intended.

In short: the shape of our entire media system for years to come is about to be reshaped. If you don’t become involved in the debate now, powerful corporate interests will shape this system to suit their interests - not yours.

This is a compilation of the materials on media ownership appearing on freepress.net. Free Press is a U.S. nonpartisan organization working to increase informed public participation in crucial media policy debates, and to generate policies that will produce a more competitive and public interest-oriented media system with a strong nonprofit and noncommercial sector. Many other organizations are also working on media reform and ownership - you can visit the Free Press media reform directory to learn more about these groups.