WASHINGTON - October 23 - Misguided FCC media ownership policies harm competition, diversity of viewpoints, and localism – the Commission’s key policy goals in regulating media ownership – and prevent the American public from receiving better broadcast television, the Center for Creative Voices in Media told the Commission in comments filed today.
“Former FCC Chairman Newton Minow once famously referred to television as a ‘vast wasteland,’” says Jonathan Rintels, Executive Director of Creative Voices. “By harming competition, diversity of viewpoints, and localism, recent ill-considered FCC media ownership policies have had the unintended consequence of making that ‘wasteland’ vaster. In its current media ownership proceeding, the Commission must reverse these policies and remedy these consequences, so that the public gets what all would agree is truly in the public interest – better television.
“At the FCC’s recent public hearing in Los Angeles, the Commissioners heard for themselves from every corner of the creative community, from writers to directors to actors to producers, as well as from their audience, the American public. The opinions were unanimous: action to reverse the consolidation trend in television is pro-creative, and creativity is in the public interest. Network broadcasters have used their control over the public’s airwaves to put their competitors – independent producers – out of business. And that is not in the public interest.
“General Electric’s recent announcement that it would reduce or eliminate scripted programming on its NBC network in the 8-9 p.m. hour of primetime is particularly illustrative of the unintended harmful consequences of FCC policy changes that have had the practical effect of eliminating independently-produced programming from the public’s airwaves. Just two years ago, NBC’s 8 p.m. hour block was home to Friends, a hugely popular hit produced by strong independent producers – one of the few shows still running from the days when FCC policies properly protected the right of independents to access the network airwaves. Prior to that, NBC’s 8 p.m. hour block was home to The Cosby Show, Family Ties, 3rd Rock From the Sun, Golden Girls, Diff’rent Strokes – the list could go on and on – all family-friendly shows, all produced by strong independent producers.
But with GE/NBC taking advantage of FCC rule changes to eliminate independent producers and take over for itself the production of programming, NBC’s own in-house studio has developed and produced few successful 8 p.m. scripted shows. Now, admitting failure, NBC will forego scripted programming in the 8 p.m. hour, and replace it with game shows and so-called ‘reality’ programming –some of the very programming that Newton Minow cited when he described television as a ‘vast wasteland.’ At the same time, NBC also announced that it would rely even more heavily on programming produced by its own “in-house” studio – the very studio that has been so markedly unsuccessful in producing scripted programming for the 8 p.m. hour block. Could anything more starkly illustrate how solidly shut the network’s doors are to programming from independent sources? And how this is clearly not in the public interest?
“NBC received the right to use the publicly-owned airwaves at no cost from the American public in exchange for its promise to serve the public interest. The public – and the Commission – must now ask whether GE/NBC is now using its free ride on those public airwaves to simply serve GE’s narrow corporate interest, at the expense of the public interest?
“Tim Winter, Executive Director of the Parents’ Television Council, correctly observed at the Los Angeles FCC hearing that families and children benefit as much as anyone from a diverse media environment. Groups like the PTC are not often on the same page as the creators they sometimes criticize. But it has become clear that family-friendly programming has a better chance of reaching audiences in a creative environment where competition, diversity of viewpoints, and localism exist, while crass, lowest common denominator programming is much more likely to proliferate in a consolidated media environment. Ownership Concentration and Indecency in Broadcasting: Is There a Link?, a Creative Voices research report submitted to the FCC with our comments, demonstrates with empirical data that localism, diversity, and competition are good for families and children, as well as for creators and adult audiences.”
Creative Voices’ Comments to the FCC are now available online here.
The Center for Creative Voices in Media (CCVM) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to preserving in America’s media the original, independent, and diverse creative voices that enrich our nation’s culture and safeguard its democracy. Peggy Charren and Steven Bochco are members of Creative Voices’ Board of Advisors, which includes numerous winners of Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, and other awards for creative excellence.