Friday, June 13, 2003
Monopolizing the media
Our American capitalist democracy demands a lot from its citizens. There are few guarantees. We must learn to provide for ourselves and our families. We are not coddled with benefits such as job security, healthcare, child care, or any other care. In a government by the people, its citizens bear major responsibilities. On a local level, a citizen needs to make decisions on who will hold office, how much will be spent on schools, police, road maintenance, etc. All this demands a broad knowledge of economic, technological and political issues and current events, both local and global. Information, accurate and impartial, is essential for a well-functioning democracy.
Consequently, the decision made by the Federal Communications Commission last week to relax the restrictions on ownership of the media is quite disturbing. By a 3-2 vote the commission voted to permit one company to own up to three television stations, eight radio stations, a daily newspaper, and a cable company in larger cities and metropolitan areas. In Boston, if one company owned the Boston Globe and three TV stations, there would be few independent voices left.
While there may be a few business synergies in consolidating print and broadcast news, the loss of competition never benefits the reader or consumer. We will lose the driving force for better, deeper, more complete reporting. While we may be able to tap into the Washington Post or the BBC for international news, where will we turn for local and regional news?
A diverse group of individuals and organizations has surfaced to oppose this FCC action, including many Republican as well as Democratic members of Congress, the Consumers' Union, and other watchdog organizations. We need to support their efforts.
Consolidation of news media is more than just a loss of competition and diversity, it undermines the democratic process.
I grew up in a century-old Victorian house on the main street of a small town in upstate New York. It had a cherrywood staircase, an enormously scary attic, an historic barn, and a front porch from which we watched scores of parades over the years. In 1973, my newly widowed mother sold the house, which bordered the town's commercial area, to a developer who, in a heartbeat, razed it and put up a cinder-block tire store.
In the 1970s, my town had no historic commission, no planning board, no vision of the encroaching sprawl that would gobble up our house. Although considerably smaller than my hometown, Carlisle at the time had not only a Planning Board but a new Historic Commission. Today, although Carlisle's older houses won't be replaced by tire stores, tear-downs and mansionization spark sharply divided feelings.
Look at Stearns Street, where recent tear-downs of modest houses made way for mansions that changed the character of the once-rural neighborhood. The problem here is one of scale · behemoths sprawling next to Capes and ranch houses create architectural dissonance, but this can be avoided or minimized.
Change isn't always bad, but the country character of Carlisle is at risk when existing houses · those that don't suit the high-income family intent on five bedrooms, five bathrooms and a Great Room · succumb to the bulldozer. Fortunately, Massachusetts has a regulatory tool adopted by almost 80 communities. The Demolition Delay By-law encourages owners and builders to think twice about tear-downs and can delay by six months to a year the razing of certain buildings while alternatives are explored. The Carlisle Historical Commission and the Planning Board plan to explore Demolition Delay, but there is no timetable. We need this by-law · and soon.
A building whose demolition would be a detriment to a community's historic resources is deemed "historically significant" in most Massachusetts by-laws. Although the small 1960s homes on Stearns Street are too young to be historically significant, a Carlisle by-law could be written that protects the overall feel and character of a neighborhood. Then the Planning Board and/or the Historic Commission could discuss various architectural elements with the owner or builder to make the new houses compatible with the neighborhood. That opportunity for discussion is at the heart of such a by-law, enabling the town to have input into new construction if the demolition goes forward.
The Highland School, built in 1908, is an historically significant building whose future is unclear. In April, a feasibility study on expanding the Carlisle School proposed either moving it or tearing it down as part of the new school complex. If, in a few years, tear-down is planned, Demolition Delay would allow time to discuss alternatives. The fate of the historic school promises to be an emotional issue for the community.
For a long time, I was emotional about the loss of my childhood home. But the house lives on in my dreams and my heart. It tells me there's a better way.
© 2003 The