LOS ANGELES - September 28 - On Oct. 3 in Los Angeles, all five Federal Communications Commissioners will meet face-to-face with the public to discuss sweeping changes to the nation's media ownership rules.
"These hearings are a long overdue opportunity for the public to weigh in on the crucial decisions that shape our media," said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, which is helping to mobilize public participation in the hearings. "It's about time that Chairman Kevin Martin and the other FCC Commissioners got outside of the Beltway and actually listened to everyday people about how the media are serving their communities."
The FCC public hearing will take place in two parts at two separate locations:
Tuesday, October 3
1 p.m. — 4:30 p.m.
University of Southern California
Davidson Conference Center
3415 South Figueroa Street
6:30 p.m. — 10 p.m.
El Segundo High School
640 Main Street
All five FCC Commissioners are expected to attend the hearings. Both events will feature an "open microphone" session for the public to offer testimony on a first-come, first-served basis.
A broad-based coalition of local and national groups is urging their members to attend the hearings and testify about the impacts of media consolidation. They include the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, California NOW, CALPIRG, Free Press, Media Alliance, MoveOn.org Civic Action, National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-CWA, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Newspaper Guild-CWA, Prometheus Radio Project, local churches and many others.
"It's imperative that as many people as possible turn out for these hearings," said John Clark, president of NABET-CWA. "Important decisions will be made as a result of these sessions, decisions that will determine the future direction and diversity of our country's media forever."
"The change in media rules will impact every household in this country," added Alex Nogales, President and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. "The FCC needs to ensure diverse participation in the audience and that every Angeleno who wants to be heard on this issue gets the opportunity to voice his or her concerns."
On July 24, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making (FNPRM) that mentions no specific rule changes. But Martin has previously expressed his support for eliminating two key protections. One is the longstanding prohibition on "newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership," which prevents companies from owning a television or radio station and the major daily newspaper in most markets. The other is the local ownership cap that limits a company from owning more than one television station in most markets, or two in larger markets.
"What's at stake is the future of local news and information," said Linda Foley, president of the Newspaper Guild-CWA. "With the quality and diversity of local news already threatened by the domination of media conglomerates, giving these media moguls more latitude to combine local newspapers and local broadcast stations will result in less exchange of viewpoints, less local news, less public discourse and more civic apathy."
In 2003, Martin joined then-Chairman Michael Powell in voting to eliminate these very rules. In response, millions of people contacted the FCC and Congress to oppose the changes. The Senate voted to overturn the rules, which were later tossed out in federal court — sending the FCC back to the drawing board.
"Last time around, churches, schools, and community groups fought the giveaway of our airwaves tooth and nail," said Hannah Sassaman of the Prometheus Radio Project, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that rejected the new rules. "They told the FCC to limit media consolidation, because the more opportunities corporate media have to buy up more radio stations, the fewer spaces there are for us to use our own airwaves."
The Los Angeles events are the first — and so far the only — public hearings scheduled, but Chairman Martin has pledged to hold "half a dozen" similar events nationwide "in diverse locations around the country to fully involve the American people." Unofficial hearings, attended by Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, have been held this year in Norfolk, Va.; Asheville, N.C.; Los Angeles; Milwaukee; and Austin, Texas.
"When media owners control too many outlets, local, diverse news coverage declines and our democracy suffers," said Emily Rusch, consumer advocate for CALPIRG. "In 2003, millions of Americans urged the FCC to prevent monopolies in media ownership, and now, three years later, the public still strongly opposes media consolidation."
This year, more than 100,000 public comments have been filed with the FCC about the media ownership rules. The final deadline for comments is Dec. 21. Local residents who can't attend a public hearing can file their comments to the FCC here.
"My family has totally given up watching the broadcast channels for news," said Jean Thomson of Los Angeles, who is encouraging her neighbors to attend the FCC hearing. "Now the newspapers are consolidating for greater profits. With the large conglomerates taking over all outlets in the area, the news is no longer news — it is just the spin of the owner's philosophy. We see the same information in the newspaper, television, radio — word for word. If we don't speak up now, we will not longer have a chance to be heard."
For more information, visit www.stopbigmedia.com/=lahearin