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Free Press: Portland Speaks Out for Local Media, Against Consolidation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JUNE 29, 2007
12:30 AM

CONTACT: Free Press 
Yolanda Hippensteele, Free Press,
(202) 413-7848 (In Portland)
Jon Bartholomew, Common Cause, (207) 878-4126 or (207) 712-8471 (In Portland)
Jen Howard, Free Press, (703) 517-6273

 
Portland Speaks Out for Local Media, Against Consolidation
Hundreds Turn Out for First FCC Hearing on Localism Since 2004
 

PORTLAND, MAINE - JUNE 29 - More than 200 people attended an official Federal Communications Commission hearing on localism Thursday, packing into the Portland High School auditorium to express their frustration with the dwindling number of locally owned radio and television stations.

"I can remember when our newspapers, radio and TV stations were locally owned," said Elery Keene of Winslow, Maine, one of dozens who signed up to testify. "I could talk to the owners personally, and they had a vested interest in the welfare of our community. The owners of our mega media systems do not. To them, Central Maine where I live is just a small profit center, something that may show up on the financial statement. I appeal to the FCC to fix this broken system."

In exchange for their free use of the public airwaves, radio and TV broadcasters are required by the FCC to air programming that is relevant and responsive to the local community's needs. The FCC hearing in Portland was an opportunity for local residents to tell the FCC whether Maine's broadcasters have upheld their local obligations.

"Tonight we continue a truly remarkable grassroots dialogue about the future of our media," said Commissioner Michael Copps. "And I hope there will be some discussion about the future of low-power radio and television, because in an age of consolidation, they are often the last bastions for media diversity and media democracy."

All three of the major TV network affiliates in Portland were locally owned until a decade ago, when out-of-state companies Hearst-Argyle, Sinclair and Gannett snapped up the stations -- eliminating the lone female media owner in the market. There is now just one remaining local radio station owner on Portland's commercial radio dial.

"Frankly, the FCC has failed to protect the interests of the American people," said Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. "The real broadcast license renewal process conducted by the FCC has been dwindled down to a postcard, rubber-stamp process. The end result is that today many stations are unattended and operated from remote locations; residents are discouraged from monitoring a station's performance; and dialogue between the station and its community is too often non-existent."

The commissioners listened to hours of citizen concerns about the quality of local news and programming, lack of diversity over the airwaves, and numerous presentations from local broadcasters.

"After the Telecom Act of 1996, half of the radio stations in the Midcoast area became Clear Channel properties -- operated by strangers a long way from Main Street," said panelist Chellie Pingree, former president of Common Cause and Maine state legislator. "This story could be repeated across Maine and across the country. Increasingly, there are fewer and fewer reporters covering our state legislature, local governments and local elections. I believe that there is much damage to be undone."

A broad coalition of local and national groups worked to increase public awareness of the Portland event. They included Common Cause Maine, Free Press, the Community Television Association of Maine, the Community Television Network, community radio stations WMPG and WERU, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, the League of Young Voters, MoveOn.org Civic Action, The Newspaper Guild and Prometheus Radio Project.

The first FCC localism hearing since 2004, the Portland event was part of a larger set of initiatives "to enhance localism among radio and television broadcasters" put forth by former Chairman Michael Powell in 2003. Previous localism hearings were held in Charlotte, N.C.; San Antonio, Texas; Rapid City, S.D.; and Monterey, Calif. The FCC is also currently conducting a series of six public hearings on media consolidation.

To read more about the official FCC public hearing in Portland, visit: http://www.stopbigmedia.com/=portland or http://www.commoncause.org/portlandhearing .

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