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Atlanta Turns Focus to Media Ownership
ATLANTA - December 2 - On Thursday, nearly 200 Atlantans gathered at Georgia Tech to talk media ownership. Federal Communications Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps urged the people of Atlanta to demand better news, and to participate in debates about media ownership.
Panelists at the event spoke about the need for the public, and especially women and people of color, to have a voice in the media, and in creating news that serves community needs.
Copps, in his last public speech as an FCC commissioner, spoke passionately about continued citizen participation at the FCC. Copps will retire at the end of the year and received a standing ovation from the audience.
“This is about building democratic infrastructure. People need to be informed. Citizen action can still count, even in these times when so few people wield such outrageous power,” he said. “When you leave here tonight, speak out, write, sing, march, whatever you can do. Tell the FCC what you think but don't stop there.”
Copps took particular aim at broadcasters engaging in covert consolidation to skirt the FCC’s media ownership limits, emphasizing the need to hold broadcasters accountable to the people.
“Some broadcasters are doing end runs around our media ownership limits by way of so-called shared services agreements — a fancy term for covert consolidation that lets one company control another without actually formally owning it,” he said.
Copps lamented the FCC’s decision not to act on Media Council Hawai’i’s complaint about covert consolidation in Honolulu.
“Just last week, our Media Bureau actually dismissed a complaint against such a shared service agreement, even while admitting that the arrangement was at odds with the purpose and intent of our rules on duopolies,” he said. “It just seemed to me that this might be a case where we should have acted on behalf of the public interest instead of kicking the can down the road.”
Addressing the predominantly African-American audience, Clyburn spoke about the continued need for greater diversity of ownership. She discussed the actions the FCC must take during its quadrennial media ownership review to ensure that its rules are effective.
“We have to encourage more diversity in the boardrooms, at our TV and radio stations and across the entire news ecosystem,” Clyburn said. She noted that to achieve equality in broadcast ownership, the FCC must first do the necessary research. Currently, she said, the FCC doesn’t have the data it needs to make rules that will stand up in court.
Lack of diversity in the media was a recurring theme on the panels. Spirited discussion about the state of the media in Atlanta inspired comments from the audience during the Q&A. Audience member Donald King asked his fellow attendees, “How many of you heard about this event on the radio or TV?” No one spoke up. “This is the state of the media in Atlanta,” King said.
Free Press Senior Adviser and panelist Joseph Torres reminded Atlantans about the struggle that people of color have faced in gaining opportunities to participate in media ownership and news. Atlanta, he said, was home to the nation’s first African-American-owned broadcast station, and was the city in which the earliest efforts to pressure broadcasters to serve the public interest were born.
He emphasized the need for the FCC to address racial and gender inequality in the media and to focus on policies that create a new tradition of equal opportunity.
“We need to make sure policies are adopted that lift up our voices and not marginalize them. We need policies that allow us to tell our own stories,” he said.
“Because too often, when other people tell our stories, they get it wrong. It’s time for the FCC to say no to more media consolidation because accepting more media inequality is simply unjust.”