Ask the candidates: What will you do to protect the free flow of information?

image: we buy your kids broadcast tv political advertising

Tired of all those political ads blasting out of your TV and concerned about what the folks paying for them might expect from the candidates? Worried about what the decline of the newspaper industry and the proliferation of online news sites means for the availability and the reliability of the information you depend on in your home or business? Worried about the cost and availability of high-speed internet service and the preservation of a truly open internet?

The future of media in our democracy ought to be an important issue in this fall’s elections – after all, the airwaves belong to “we the people.” So when candidates for the House and Senate show up in your community for Town Hall meetings or other forums this fall, ask what they think government should be doing to preserve and enhance freedom of the press and ensure that information is available and accessible. Courtesy of former Federal Communications Commission member Michael Copps, now director of Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform initiative, here are some questions for the candidates that may help you.

(1). Would you support legislation to require fuller disclosure of who is really sponsoring all those negative political ads on TV?  Telling us that an ad is being sponsored by the Committee for Mom and Apple Pie, or Citizens for a Better America, doesn’t give us a clue about what interests, left or right, are bank-rolling it.  We need fuller disclosure.  Can we count on you to help?

(2). Broadcasters were formerly required to get their licenses renewed every three years and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had guidelines to make sure station owners were doing real news, covering local campaigns, and talking to viewers and listeners about how well they were doing their job.  Now, with so many local stations gobbled up by a small number of Big Media giants, the FCC has gotten rid of most of its public interest guidelines and only requires station owners to get relicensed every eight years–not three.  The public owns the airwaves.  Why have we allowed the consolidators to amass so much power and what do you think you can do about it?

(3). Fewer telecommunications companies are controlling our access to broadband and the Internet.  Most of us have one, maybe two, providers to “choose” from.  Do you think all these telecom company mergers have been good for consumers and good for competition?  How can we get more competition?

(4). Some people argue that access to broadband and the Internet ought to be seen as a civil right in the 21st century because without such access, people don’t have the same opportunities for jobs and a good education.  Do you agree?

(5).  The U.S. fares poorly in most comparisons on how countries are doing in making broadband available to all their citizens.  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), puts us at Number 15 and other rankings have us doing even worse.  Some cities and towns, tired of being denied true high-speed broadband by the mega-companies, have built their own high-value broadband networks.  Are you for or against the right of people in their own communities coming together to get this job done? Why or why not?

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