Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fight Over FCC’s Big-Media Ownership Rule

by James Parks, Dec 19, 2007

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps addresses the Stop Big Media Rally in front of the FCC headquarters in October.

Unions representing media workers roundly condemned yesterday’s decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow big-media moguls like Rupert Murdoch to swallow up more local media across the country and reduce the diversity of news and programming.

Ignoring strong public sentiment against the move, the FCC approved on a 3–2 party-line vote Chairman Kevin Martin’s proposal to allow a single corporation to own both a broadcast and newspaper operation in the 20 largest media markets as long as at least eight other independent news sources exist in that market.

The Republican majority on the FCC also voted to approve more than 40 waivers for pre-existing cross-owned combinations in markets large and small. These waivers will shield companies like the Tribune, News Corporation, Media General and Gannett from even the weak standards of Martin’s new media ownership rules, according to the media advocacy group Free Press. Click here to demand that Congress overturn the new FCC rules.

In a joint statement, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), the Communications Workers of America (CWA), The Newspaper Guild-CWA (TNG-CWA) and the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-CWA (NABET-CWA) expressed strong concern that the FCC did not require that any merged newspaper-broadcast operation in the same market to maintain separate newsroom and editorial staffs, an addition that would have helped to ensure an independent editorial voice in communities.

They also stressed that ensuring a diverse media is more critical than ever in today’s environment and raised concerns about the impact of consolidation on competition, diversity of opinion and quality jobs.

The unions had called on the FCC to provide a full public review of the proposed rule, including a 90-day comment period as well as an open process to resolve issues of local control and women’s and minority ownership of broadcast media.

Tom Carpenter, AFTRA’s general counsel and legislative director, said:

As the ownership rules are relaxed, we will see even further consolidation and editorial control by just a few corporations. This rule change is contrary to the FCC’s mandate to safeguard diversity of local voices and the public interest.

TNG-CWA President Linda Foley said more, not fewer, safeguards are needed to promote media diversity. In the United States, local television and newspaper media markets already are highly concentrated, and most cities are one-newspaper towns, she said.

Today, most Americans get their news from local sources. The FCC’s action means that fewer distinct, local media voices will be available as news sources for citizens. Particularly in markets that already are highly concentrated, these changes fail to protect the public interest.

NABET-CWA President John Clark, adds:

Our members know what happens when one company owns more than one TV station or a major TV station and the monopoly newspaper in the same market. The owner merges operations, slashes jobs and reduces the quantity and quality of the news.

FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, the only two Democrats on the commission, opposed the new rule. The two conducted field hearings on the proposal and heard consumers complain that media was already too consolidated and that local news and diverse views were being sacrificed for the corporate bottom line.

In his dissent, Copps said the decision was:

unconnected to good policy and not even incidentally concerned with encouraging media to make our democracy stronger. We are not concerned with gathering valid data, conducting good research or following the facts where they lead us.

Our motivations are less Olympian and our methodology far simpler—we generously ask big media to sit on Santa’s knee, tell us what it wants for Christmas, and then push through whatever of these wishes are politically and practically feasible. No test to see if anyone’s been naughty or nice. Just another big, shiny present for the favored few who already hold an FCC license—and a lump of coal for the rest of us. Happy holidays!

Adelstein said:

Sadly, today, quality journalism is too often sacrificed to meet quarterly earnings numbers for Wall Street. Owners of multiple media outlets lose incentive to invest in independent and competitive news operations in the same market. The Commission’s own study…shows that locally owned TV stations provide more local news. And while the Commission has failed to complete a similar study of radio, we have heard across the country that homogenized playlists and payola are shutting out local musicians, and unmanned radio stations have replaced local DJs.

Click here to read Copps’ dissent and here for Adelstein’s.

However, the final word may come from Congress. Last week, 26 senators from both sides of the aisle sent a strongly worded letter to Martin warning:

If you proceed to take final action on this rule on December 18 without having given a reasonable opportunity for comment on the actual rules and study the related issues, we will immediately move legislation that will revoke and nullify the proposed rule.

On Dec. 4, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation unanimously passed the bipartisan Media Ownership Act of 2007 (S. 2332)—a bill that would direct the FCC to conduct a separate proceeding on local ownership and create an independent minority and female ownership task force before moving forward with any changes to media ownership limits.

The bill, introduced by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.), also would ensure a 90-day period for the public to comment on any proposed rules.

In addition, more than 20 civil rights groups have called upon the FCC to first address the media diversity crisis before considering any new rules.

Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, says the fight is definitely not over.

It’s time to raise hell. More than two dozen senators have already vowed to throw out these new rules. And the courts won’t look too kindly on the broken and corrupt process that brought us to today’s vote. The fight is far from over. The growing public outcry is only going to get louder.

Print This Article | E-Mail This Article | Digg it | Comments (2)

Tags: Federal Communications Commission, FCC, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFTRA, Communications Workers of America, CWA, The Newspaper Guild, National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, NABET, Linda Foley, John Clark, Michael Copps, Jonathan Adelstein, union, unions

No comments: