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Indian Country's journalists, thinkers, are important asset

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At the same time that American media is concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, the option for tribal nations and consortia to field media initiatives, via Internet, newspapers, video and other productions has begun to grow.

Native peoples need Native journalism; writers and thinkers are requested to address the major issues of the day - both for Indian country and for America and the world at large. Journalism in America presently is seriously stilted. It is lacking in vigor to critique America itself - government departments as well corporations large and small. Intelligence and military entities completely defy oversight these days, at least from media. The media has stayed largely out to lunch for the past two years.

If anything, the trend to weakness and blandness in American media is about to accelerate. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is about to overhaul rules that govern ownership of newspapers and television and radio stations. Agenda-driven journalism that skews the truth for ideological schisms is set to dominate.

This is a serious move with long term implications. Current ownership rules don't allow mergers between major television networks. Companies are limited in the number of TV and radio stations it can own in a market. No one company can own TV stations with a reach of more than 35 percent of U.S. households. A company can not own a newspaper and a radio and television station in the same city.

That's all about to change. According to FCC Democrat Jonathan Adelstein: "Democracy is at stake." A big piece of the process at the FCC has been carried out in secrecy. No media were allowed at the evisceration of the public right to a diverse media. FCC Chairman Michael Powell - son of Colin - refused to make proposed changes public until now that the vote is due on June 2.

The FCC's vote is expected to usher in a wave of media consolidation deals, as newspapers, television and radio stations get snapped up and swapped. International media barons, such as Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corp., are key players in the coming media consolidation. Murdoch's empire is looking to buy DirecTV, adding the major satellite service to one man's huge conglomerate of news, sports, movies and television shows. Media giants, such as the Walt Disney Co. (owns ABC), and Viacom Inc. (owns CBS), could buy up the universe of television stations. A handful of owners of huge conglomerates would define all reality. It will make true the A.J. Liebling saying, "The press is free to those that own one."

What happened to radio in America since 1996, when Congress eliminated the national cap on station ownership, is illuminating of what's to come for television. Now individual companies own as many as 1,200 radio stations. In 1990, the limit was 40 stations. Today, just two companies own stations that broadcast to 42 percent of national listeners. In many country venues, local radio communications is controlled by one sole source and more consolidation will follow.

Eased ownership restrictions will concentrate the control of what people see, read and hear in the hands of a few giant media companies. It is hard to overestimate the potential dangers of such a move by the federal commission. FCC Chairman Powell appears relentless in the pursuit of the conglomerate agenda, championing the concentration of cable TV with online communications. For example, this will allow two massive cable companies - Comcast and Time Warner - to own the bulk of the country's cable TV systems. Earlier Powell removed critical safeguards that opened the way for cable and telephone behemoths to dominate high-speed Internet access.

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An article published in AlterNet drew attention to the "growing numbers of the public [who] are willing to stand up and express their unhappiness with the way media conglomerates are using the public airwaves." Yet the impending media give-away appears inevitable for next week. That the media has been nearly silent on something of such tremendous magnitude is in itself, indicative of the problem. For a country that depends on competing sources of information, "such changes will affect journalism, politics and the public's First Amendment rights to a system fostering diversity of viewpoints and expression."

Interestingly, elements of the Right and Left united against the emerging media monopolies on this issue - a good sign that might not make a difference this time. It was New York Times conservative columnist William Safire who accused the media system of hiding the real story. This is because it does not want to "expose the broadcast lobby's pressure on Congress and the courts to allow station owners to gobble up more stations and cross-own local newspapers, thereby to determine information residents of a local market receive." The National Rifle Association joined in with Anti-war groups to oppose the coming media monopolies. Even Barry Diller, himself a media mogul, complained to journalist Bill Moyers: "Five, 10 years ago there were thousands and thousands of cable operators serving their local communities. Now, there are three big ones and three mid-size ones. And no one else essentially. It gives them such overwhelming power in the marketplace that everyone has to do essentially what they say. What we have is an absolute fact that five companies control 90 percent of all of it. Instead of three channels that were controlled by a few people, there are now 500 controlled by a few people." Nevertheless, as three Republicans outnumber the two Democrats on the FCC, and the chairman is playing hardball, the FCC is likely to vote to fully privatize the airwaves.

Is civil society shutting down so drastically that the major news channels can not directly critique American international endeavors? Is media independence a thing of the past? Are journalistic ethics completely subordinate to the commercial imperative now?

We hope not, and from our corner of the world, we are proud to have a hand in shaping, through Indian Country Today, a weekly production of thinking and analysis, reporting and opinion making, presenting a thematic, reflective and timely intellectual production, perhaps one of the few such sources to be found in the Native world.

There is a strong base of Native talent and deep range of experience in the circle of reporters, correspondents and columnists of Indian Country Today. Our ICT editors work with a large circle of commentators - including such luminaries as John Mohawk, Suzan Harjo, Rebecca Adamson, Carey Vicenti, Kevin Gover, Chuck Trimble, Steve Newcomb, David Wilkins, Marty Two Bulls and dozens more, who produce - weekly - outstanding, focused materials on a great range of subjects. Mohawk, Harjo, Trimble, and Senior Editor Barreiro are among the icons and founders of a pragmatic and yet highly intellectualized Indian country journalism. All have played substantive roles in the development of the field's most cherished institutions, from the seminal Indian rights paper Akwesasne Notes to AIPA and NAJA and now Indian Country Today. ICT's commitment: inform the Native leadership in cultural, educational, economic, ecological and technical fields, on important and interesting issues of the day. ICT Native editors and commentators include community leaders and active professionals, internationally known professors and community development leaders, nationally known attorneys, expert researchers and presenters, and many culture-bearing people of various fields of knowledge. Together, they comprise centuries of experience and are the concentric circles of intelligence that provide our senior editors with the range of viewpoints and the confidence to focus Indian country on issues of maximum importance.

Weekly editions of Indian Country Today are at their best when completely generated in-house, all articles, all writing produced by our editors, columnists and reporters. We are very proud to have such a team that can respond, on a timely basis, to the major issues with insight and maturity. The editorial/perspective package, plus the complementary sections, comes out of a range of people that constitute a Native think-tank of serious proportion, on par with any major group of thinkers and commentators working anywhere in the world today.

Indian Country Today editors hosted a media and networking seminar at the United Nations last week. Native journalists from as far away as Chile and Venezuela to New Zealand and Norway attended. Even on the global scale, indigenous people are creating independent communications networks. This is of utmost importance. At Indian Country Today, we are committed to holding as much ground as possible to present tribal realities and perspectives in the world of media communications.

Our advice to the tribal nations with financial resources: support Native media efforts that can challenge the very limited, increasingly controlled mainstream story about the Native world. Support the Indian talent base and training mechanisms in media for Native peoples. Public definition, clear messaging through media, is the next battlefield of survival for tribal peoples.

Editors' note: Visit MediaReform.net, a comprehensive Web site that makes it easy for you to register your protest about the FCC's media deregulation policies.