Warning the "decimation of journalism" by big business and billionaire executives poses a major threat to democracy, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday unveiled a plan to stop the long-running corporate consolidation of American media, take anti-trust action against tech giants like Facebook and Google, and bolster independent news.
"Today, after decades of consolidation and deregulation, just a small handful of companies control almost everything you watch, read, and download," Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, wrote in an op-ed for the Columbia Journalism Review.
This consolidation, as well as the domination of the digital market by Facebook and Google, has led to the destruction of local independent news and hard-hitting reporting, Sanders said, leaving a void that has been filled by the vapid punditry, "infotainment," and business-friendly propaganda that is so often featured on America's corporate-owned television networks.
"At precisely the moment when we need more reporters covering the healthcare crisis, the climate emergency, and economic inequality," wrote the Vermont senator, "we have television pundits paid tens of millions of dollars to pontificate about frivolous political gossip, as local news outlets are eviscerated."
Sanders went on to provide an overview of the long-running destruction of local news and independent journalism, which he said has been "gutted by the same forces of greed that are pillaging our economy":
Over the past 15 years, more than 1,400 communities across the county have lost newspapers, which are the outlets local television, radio, and digital news sites rely on for reporting. Since 2008, we have seen newsrooms lose 28,000 employees—and in the past year alone, 3,200 people in the media industry have been laid off. Today, for every working journalist, there are six people now working in public relations, often pushing a corporate line.
To fight the corporate assault on journalism — which Sanders noted has been made "far worse" by President Donald Trump's "authoritarian bullying" — the senator's plan would:
- Impose an immediate moratorium on federal approval of mergers of major media companies;
- Require media corporations to disclose whether their corporate transactions and mergers would cause significant layoffs of reporters;
- Require that employees "be given the opportunity to purchase media outlets through employee stock-ownership plans";
- Block federal merger and deregulation moves that harm people of color and women;
- "Reinstate and strengthen media ownership rules" with the goal of limiting "the number of stations that large broadcasting corporations can own in each market and nationwide";
- Enforce anti-trust laws against tech behemoths like Facebook and Google "to prevent them from using their enormous market power to cannibalize, bilk, and defund news organizations";
- Increase funding for federal programs that support public local media "in much the same way many other countries already fund independent public media."
"Today's assault on journalism by Wall Street, billionaire businessmen, Silicon Valley, and Donald Trump presents a crisis," Sanders wrote. "We cannot sit by and allow corporations, billionaires, and demagogues to destroy the Fourth Estate, nor can we allow them to replace serious reporting with infotainment and propaganda."
"When I am president," Sanders said, "my administration will put in place policies that will reform the media industry and better protect independent journalism at both the local and national levels."
Sanders' plan to stop corporate consolidation of U.S. media and reverse its devastating effects won praise from journalists and press freedom advocates.
"Wow!" tweeted Craig Aaron, president of advocacy group Free Press. "Bernie Sanders outlines an ambitious plan to save local journalism and confront the harm greedy corporate media and runaway consolidation have done to communities."