CWA Tells FCC: Preserve Diversity of Information Sources and Ownership

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To best preserve the widest possible dissemination and diversity of information to the public, the Federal Communications Commission should safeguard the media from consolidation into fewer hands, Linda Foley, president of The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America, told FCC commissioners and others at today's public hearing on media consolidation in Richmond, Va.

The FCC is considering lifting restrictions on cross ownership between local television stations and newspapers, between local radio stations and newspapers, on mergers or other combinations of television broadcast networks and on the number of local television or radio stations owned by one entity, among other changes. Easing these rules is a major change in public policy that will have significant impact on the availability and diversity of news and entertainment sources.

At previous field hearings and media briefings, CWA has cited overwhelming evidence that demonstrates that the current restrictions on media concentration and cross-ownership are needed to preserve a vibrant free media.

Today's hearing featured three panels which looked at the FCC's key policy goals of broadcast regulation - diversity, localism and competition.

Foley cited the purchase of Canada's largest newspaper chain by its second largest commercial broadcast chain as a strong example of how concentration of media ownership can destroy those key goals.

Within months of that merger, CanWest Global mandated that its 14 largest newspapers and all broadcast news operations follow the editorial viewpoints dictated by the Winnipeg headquarters, a complete reversal of the journalistic tradition of local editorial independence, she testified.

"It wasn't too long before news stories were being edited and spun to conform to the editorial viewpoints. Reaction by journalists across Canada ranged from public demonstrations of outrage to resignations, including that of a publisher, she added.

In the United States, local television and newspaper media markets are already high concentrated, Foley said, and most cities are one-newspaper towns. The FCC should not permit mergers in markets that are already highly concentrated, and if mergers are permitted, the FCC should ensure that the combination is in the public interest and that antagonistic sources of news and information are preserved, she noted.

"When it comes to setting the local news agenda and local viewpoint diversity, diverse ownership, not the number of outlets, is what matters," Foley said.

One way to achieve this, as CWA has proposed, is to require that commonly owned media maintain separate newsroom and editorial staffs to preserve and promote viewpoint diversity, Foley said.

She urged the FCC to adopt rules to prevent further media consolidation, "an outcome that would do serious harm to the free flow of ideas that are so essential to civic participation in our democracy."

For Foley's statement, go to www.saveourmedia.org.

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey