As corporate takeover of media continues to infringe on our ability to have a free and objective press, last week one tweet from the amazing organization Reel Grrls, gave us a taste of just how vulnerable public dialogue and dissent can be to corporate media interests. Reel Grrls is a Seattle based group that builds the confidence and story-telling abilities of young and generally disenfranchised women through teaching them how to shoot and produce films. What was their beef? That Comcast-NBC Universal’s latest hire for VP of governmental affairs just happens to be a former FCC commissioner, Meredith Attwell Baker. Any onlooker would observe this with suspect.
The big nefarious tweet that caused the problem? “OMG! @FCC Commissioner Baker voted 2 approve Comcast/NBC merger & is now lving FCC for A JOB AT COMCAST?!?” Well, I had no idea tweet speak could mobilize corporate enterprise with such efficiency, I must say, I’m impressed.
Comcast decided that tweeting back wasn’t enough, instead they pulled 18K in funding from Reel Grrls summer program,
The company cut off funding for Reel Grrls’ summer camp, where 15 teenage girls learn documentary script writing, editing and filmmaking.
The reaction to the funding cutoff was also severe — and added to consumer advocates’ criticism of Comcast. Some are trying to drum up a congressional investigation into whether Baker’s new job presents a conflict of interest. Baker had criticized the FCC’s review of Comcast’s joint venture with NBC Universal for taking too long and voted in favor of the merger in a 4 to 1 decision in January.
The apparent revolving door has been the fodder of satire and criticism by late-night TV comedians, newspaper editorials and consumer groups. And the move by Comcast to scrap funding for a small nonprofit for questioning Baker’s appointment only shows how influential a giant media company can be, the critics say.
Baker starts her new job June 3. She has recused herself from any further FCC votes and hasn’t indicated her exact departure date from the agency.
The reaction was clearly a bit severe and almost sci-fi in that “you shall obey the evil man” kind of way, but Comcast has rescinded and apologized for their overreaction due to the amount of publicity this debate has gotten. But the initial point stands–this is one example of the kind of public debate that is threatened by major media company mergers.
In response, Reel Grrls has a little video message for Comcast.