Media Ownership Fight Moves to Congress
Rutgers University recently hosted the latest in a series of town hall forums being conducted by the two members of the five-person Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) who are opposed to increasing media concentration. The tireless Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps have been criss-crossing the country involving the public in a conversation that FCC Commission Chairman Kevin Martin as well as Big Media would rather the citizenry stay out of.
At Rutgers, students and community members joined together in a large lecture hall to explore specifically to what degree the local, Fox-owned TV station, which has its license up for renewal, has observed its FCC mandate to serve the local community with news coverage of relevance to residents of Northern New Jersey. The short answer, according to virtually the entire audience including US Senator Frank Lautenberg, is not very well at all.
Chairman Martin tries to avoid talking to the public, but he couldn't avoid Congress today as he was grilled by lawmakers this afternoon. All five members of the FCC panel appeared before a hearing of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee convened by Rep. John Dingell. The questioning focused on Martin's efforts to ram through changes in the agency's media-ownership rules--changes that were widely unpopular when proposed by previous FCC Chairman Michael Powell in 2003. Martin was urged repeatedly by Democratic lawmakers not to expedite the rule changes, to allow sufficient time for the public to be consulted and to drop his plans to hold a vote at an FCC meeting on December 18 -- a vote he knows he's likely to win.
Last week, our friends at the media reform group Free Press released two reports criticizing Martin's rush for more media consolidation. Devil in the Details exposed how the loose and ambiguous "waiver" standard proposed by Martin creates a giant loophole for big media companies to exploit. Out of the Picture 2007 found minority-owned commercial TV stations decreased by 8.5 percent last year on Martin's watch -- with the number of black-owned stations falling 60 percent.
And the proposed rule changes will make all these problems worse! "What the FCC is proposing would result in sweeping changes to the American media landscape that would leave us with fewer competing voices and less diversity on the public airwaves," said S. Derek Turner, research director of Free Press.
After reading the reports check out this video to see why the stakes are so high.
Then, go to the Free Press Action Center for info on ways you can join the movement for a diverse, pluralistic and democratic media.
© 2007 The Nation