TELECOMMUNICATIONS ACT OF 1996

Starting with 1980s and Reagan administration’s philosophy of easing restrictions on all businesses, big media companies became bigger. Bill Clinton’s administration continued this push towards deregulation which culminated in Congress approving in 1996 a new media law known as the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The bill was passed ostensibly to usher in new competition, which promised to lead to lower prices and higher quality programs on radio, television, cinema, etc. The logic of “deregulation” posits that the market regulates itself with maximum efficiency. However, what actually happened was just the opposite. The new law erased the limit to ownership of media, and this lead to a handful of gigantic corporations buying up radio stations, TV stations, telephone service companies, and film studios. Instead of diversity, particularly in radio, we now have standardized, conservative, and overly commercialized programs. Deregulation has helped an elite group but not the public at large. In the words of media scholar Robert McChesney, “When you hear the term ‘deregulation,’ you should substitute that. Deregulation means regulation purely on behalf of private parties, not on behalf of the public.” Economic globalization has followed this logic to a great extent. In the twenty first century with the project of globalization American film industry has a firmly established hegemony. When a cartel finances films, produces the same films, shows them in theaters mostly owned by the cartel, broadcasts and promotes its own productions on its own TV and radio stations, then it has total control of the industry. This is vertical integration all over again. Economically, there is no competition on the world stage to fend off the blockbuster films that come out of Hollywood and colonize the consciousness of populations around the globe.

But a new reality is emerging and people are pushing back against the new vertical integration. The Internet is at the heart of this up and coming reality!

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