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The Seattle Times

Failures of The American Airwaves

A Seattle Times Editorial

The Federal Communications Commission has failed the people and the democratic system it is supposed to protect.

The many failures reached ridiculous heights in 2003 when the majority Republican commission split along party lines to gut the cross-ownership ban. The change would have allowed a single company to own a newspaper, three television stations, eight radio stations and an Internet service provider in the same market. The sinister move did not go unnoticed. The FCC was flooded with 3 million comments. Clearly, the American public is attuned to the threat media consolidation poses to democracy.

America's press, and other sectors of the media, will continue to be marginalized unless politicians act on the currents of energy created by the growing media-reform movement. Politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, should push back on the FCC.

The FCC can act on a number of issues that will quickly begin the revival of an independent press and a healthy democracy.

• Cross-ownership. The bloating of the world's media conglomerates begs lawmakers to reexamine this rule. Not only does it need to be better enforced, the rule needs to be expanded on a national level. No company should be allowed the reach and power of News Corporation. The FCC has to be alarmed that the conglomerate now owns the New York-based Wall Street Journal, Fox News, two television stations and a daily newspaper in the city. News Corporation is also launching a national financial channel.

• Licensing. The FCC should use a licensing program requiring television stations to go through a rigorous renewal every three years. The current system has almost no impact, and renewal is done every eight years. Stations simply send in a postcard.

• Network neutrality. This awkwardly named proposal would keep network providers - such as AT&T or Comcast - which supply the pipes through which the Internet moves, from implementing different pay scales for different levels of service. This law would ensure the Internet remains a place for innovation and is not controlled by the companies that own broadband.

These are just a few actions the FCC and lawmakers could take to perpetuate the press's indispensable role in a democracy. It is time the FCC acted in the best interests of the people it was created to serve, instead of large corporations.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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