Over the weekend, Sen. Al Franken (D.-Minn.) made the corporate takeover of our media, and the government's acquiescence to these corporations, frighteningly clear.
Franken told more than 2,000 bloggers and organizers attending the Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas that our media system is at risk everywhere we turn -- from our free speech online to the growing power of companies who own a massive number of media outlets.
"Tonight I want to tell you that I believe Net Neutrality is the First Amendment issue of our time," Franken said during a closing keynote address to conference-goers. He went on to warn of the looming merger between cable giant Comcast and NBC-Universal, saying:
If no one stops them, how long do you think it will take before 4 or 5 mega-corporations effectively control the flow of information in America not only on television but online? If we don't protect Net Neutrality now ... how long do you think it will take before [they] start favoring its content over everyone else's?
With the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision giving unprecedented rights to corporations over individuals, Franken said these merged, powerful media conglomerates will have untold influence over our democracy:
And if Citizens United is allowed to stand, how long do you think it will take for these monoliths to buy enough elections so that they effectively have veto power over anything Congress tries to do to regulate them?
Franken pointed to a grim, but realistic picture of the future, where media companies decide what we watch and read on every media platform, and control the information we're able to create and disseminate.
This value comes from the fact that Net Neutrality has created an equal playing field on the Internet, where anyone can connect, create and innovate. Without Net Neutrality, Franken said, "It would become just a 'series of tubes' through which money could flow into the pockets of private corporations."
And if the Comcast-NBC merger is approved, it will be the first "domino" in a series of other moves that will wrestle further control of the media from the people's hands. "If it falls, the rest will soon follow. It's almost too late to stop this from happening but not quite," he said.
The government now has a role to play. Congress can mitigate the influence of corporate money on our elections. The FCC can enact rules that would protect Net Neutrality and free speech online. And the FCC and Congress can block the NBC-Comcast merger, or in the very least, put strict conditions on the company to protect local and diverse journalism and information.
But Franken also said that the real action needs to come from the public.
"I can tell you first hand that the government, the White House and the FCC have been hearing plenty from corporations on the other side of these issues and not nearly enough from you," Franken said in closing. "If you want to protect the free flow of information in this country and all that depends on it, you have to help me fight this!"