Big Media Myopia at the FCC
Too often in the give-and-take of media policymaking, it's government officials that are giving, corporate giants that are taking, and the public that's left with nothing in the exchange.
This is certainly the case at the Federal Communications Commission, where Republican Chairman Kevin Martin is trying to brush aside mounds of evidence and ignore vast public opposition to hand a sweetheart deal to media owners with whom he seems to share a common agenda.
The decision in question -- allowing one company to own broadcast station and a major daily newspaper in the same market -- is so unpopular and wrong-headed that one wonders what really motivates Martin to defy common sense and the democratic process.
Despite intense pressure to stop his headlong rush for more consolidation, Martin has called for a vote next week the ban on "newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership" and let a few companies swallow up more local media in hundreds of cities and towns.
His rule change is likely to pass with the support of the other two Republican commissioners, Deborah Taylor Tate and Robert McDowell, sources told Reuters today.
Giving 'Short Shrift'
As FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has said, Martin's plan gives "short shrift" to pressing problems such as the sorry state of female and minority media ownership of U.S. media and the decline of quality local news coverage on TV and radio.
When the idea of more media consolidation was put before Americans -- during a series of public hearings and requests for public comment -- more than 99 percent said bigger media were bad for them, bad for their communities and bad for our democracy.
Can you remember the last time 99 percent of Americans agreed on anything?
When the FCC asked for evidence of the impact of consolidation on localism, diversity and competition in media, Free Press and its allies responded with a comprehensive series of reports that found Martin's consolidation plan amounted to little more than corporate welfare for Big Media.
Lifting the cross-ownership ban would unleash a buying spree in the local media markets, making it easier for companies like Gannett Co., News Corp. and Tribune Co. to push out independent, local owners.
Moreover, Free Press used the FCC's own data to show how such local consolidation would result in less local news, less minority control of local news outlets, and less diversity of perspectives and opinion in local media.
The Public Takes Notice
Chairman Martin has never disputed -- or even acknowledged -- this research; he would rather it be swept under the rug in hopes that the rest of us wouldn't notice.
Fortunately, many have noticed.
Right now thousands of people over at StopBigMedia.com are building a virtual "wall" of opposition. Martin, who has spent plenty of time staring across his desk at industry lobbyists, should check out the faces of his real constituents.
Martin's proposal also triggered criticism from the Hill. Rep. John Dingell, (D-Mich.), the powerful head of the House Commerce Committee, last week wrote Martin informing him that the House was launching an investigation into the way the FCC was operating.
And bipartisan legislation, now winding through the Senate, would impose a six-month delay on the Martin's plans to gut ownership limits and mandate that the agency deal with the crisis in minority media ownership before changing any rules.
Big Media's Drive-Thru
In the face of all of this, why is Martin still determined to push through his rule change?
The chairman himself wrote recently in a New York Times op-ed that he's changing the rules to save journalism -- that newspapers and television stations need to join up financially in order to survive editorially. (Never mind the legions of newsroom layoffs that have resulted from similarly merged "economies of scale.")
That Martin is willing to employ blatant illogic to save us from ourselves shows what passes for public service in an agency that's little more than a drive-thru for corporate giveaways.
That people are rising up in numbers to oppose him is a hopeful sign that "business as usual" at the FCC is destined for bankruptcy.
As the Campaign Director for Free Press and SavetheInternet.com, Karr oversees campaigns on public broadcasting and noncommercial media, fake news and propaganda, journalism in crisis, and the future of the Internet.
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