What do Americans want from their media? As commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission, we hear a lot about this issue.
We hear that Americans want to listen to hometown talent on the radio and to see local issues and politicians covered on the nightly news. They want an in-depth look at what's going on at city hall and the schools their children attend.
In short, they want to know what's really going on in their neighborhoods and to see the essentials of their lives reported accurately to the larger world.
All five members of the FCC will be in Portland on Thursday at Portland High School, starting at 4 p.m. and extending into late evening, to hear whether Mainers have the kind of media outlets they want and need.
It's especially important to us because the Federal Communications Commission will soon decide whether to allow a small number of media giants to buy up the remaining local broadcasters and other media outlets across the land.
Please come tell us what you think. When it comes to the fate of the people's airwaves -- your airwaves -- no voices should be as important as yours.
In 2003, a majority at the FCC voted -- over our strong objections -- to scrap many of the ownership limits. They did so under cover of dark and without seeking the input of the American people. Those flawed rules would have allowed a single corporation to own in some markets up to three television stations, eight radio stations, the local newspaper (a monopoly in most towns), as well as the cable system and Internet service provider.
CITIZENS HAVE IMPACT
Thankfully, that indefensible decision stirred up a hornet's nest of public outrage. Three million citizens contacted the FCC to express their opposition. We didn't know 3 million people knew there was an FCC!
But they wrote us out of a strong belief that we desperately need rules to prevent one-size-fits-all news from becoming the standard in our communities and to keep those awful, homogenized national play-lists from displacing local musicians and other artists.
Congress went on record with its concerns, and a federal court found the rules substantively and procedurally flawed and sent them back to us to rework. It was good news that citizen action checked those outrageous rules. But the threat persists.
Last summer, the FCC launched a review that might severely scale back the few remaining media consolidation protections. These rules, among other things, limit a single corporation from dominating local TV and radio markets or from merging a community's TV stations, radio stations and newspapers. The FCC folded into this review a long-dormant look into the impact of consolidation on local media coverage.
So, we are coming to Portland to hear your thoughts on the importance of localism.
While a new dialogue is under way, it needs to be much more than an inside-the-Beltway discussion between a government agency and a few mega-corporations.
American citizens own the airwaves, not TV and radio executives. We give broadcasters the right to use these airwaves for free. They earn profits (usually very healthy profits) using this public resource in exchange for agreeing to broadcast in the public interest.
We need to know whether Portlanders are well-served by the media served up to them. Are they getting the diversity of viewpoints they want?
Is news and entertainment on TV and radio designed to appeal to viewers of all ages, or are broadcasters gearing their programming exclusively to the supposed interests of the prized 18-to-34-year-old demographic?
Even if the future of our media is not your No. 1 issue, it should be your No. 2 issue. That's because Americans get their input and develop their views about other critical issues -- the economy, jobs, peace and war, health care, education, etc. -- from the media.
We can't think of any of these issues that wouldn't fare much better in an open, diverse, community-responsive and competitive media environment.
KEEPING 'THERE' THERE
Seventy years ago, Gertrude Stein returned to her hometown to find she could not locate her childhood home. She famously stated, "there is no there there." When our children look one day at the media system we have left them -- and take up the reins of self-government -- we hope they never have to share Stein's chilling conclusion.
So we urge you to attend the FCC hearing. We need your input. We believe we have the best chance in our generation to settle this issue of who will control our media and for what purposes, and to resolve it in favor of airwaves of, by and for the people of this great country. But it will take a lot of us, working together, to make it happen.
Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein are commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC meeting is at 4 p.m. Thursday at Portland High School.
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