Washington Congressional candidates on media ownership and net neutrality

In last week's televised debate, Republican Congressman Dave Reichert and his Democractic challenger Darcy Burner (Washington 8th district) responded to questions about net neutrality and media ownership consolidation. While both candidates voiced support for the principle of net neutrality (Reichert voted for a failed net neutrality amendment before voting in favor of the entire neutrality-free COPE Bill), Reichert came up completely blank on the question of ownership.

On Net Neutrality:

[Question from Ryan Blethen]: "The issue of net neutrality is likely to come up before Congress soon after either one of you is elected. One one side you have the telecoms and the ISPs such as AT&T and Verizon pushing to charge for faster Internet service. The other side of the debate has been fueled by Microsoft, Amazon, and a whole army of folks putting videos on YouTube and using blogs. Their message has been that Congress needs to create rules or laws that ensure that everyone has the same access to the Internet. Where are you on network neutrality, and what role should Congress play in regulating the Internet?"

Darcy Burner: "I support net neutrality. When I was first learning to use the Internet, back in college, there was an expression that we used to use, which is that on the Internet, nobody knows if you're a dog. The basic idea was that on the Internet, everyone is equal, and it doesn't matter where you're coming from, or who you are--that you can have a voice and that voice can have an impact. The Internet as it exists right now has the potential to be one of the purest forms of democratic participation that the world has ever seen. We have right in the Pacific Northwest some incredible examples of that. There's a young man who started a website, called the Northwest Progressive Institute, that has a real impact on local politics. He didn't have any money when he started it. It's a website that he put up, with the help of his friends, and he has put an enormous amount of work into, that has had a real impact on local issues and local elections. And when he started that website, the young man in question, Andrew Villeneuve, was seventeen years old. The Internet can be an incredible tool for giving everyone a voice in a way that we have never been able to do previously. But we have to make sure that we maintain the basic equality that's at the heart of the Internet. Because right now, if I post something, or one of you posts something, that has the same weight, the same precedence on the Internet as if (journalist) Jonathan Martin posts it, or David Postman posts it--all of us are equal. What [the absence of] Net Neutrality proposes to do is to say that some voices are going to be more important than others; some voices will get precedence over others. And what loses in that, is this idea of an equal democracy. So I support net neutrality, because of the potential that the Internet has as an incredible tool for people to communicate with each other on the same footing and as equals, as the tool that we need to make the marketplace of ideas finally live up to its potential."

Dave Reichert: "I also support net neutrality. [The Internet] should be an equal place where people to come, equal companies to come. It should be the choice of the people, when they Google, the biggest company doesn't come up, but the company that the people have chosen as the most important site pops up. That's why I supported, and voted for, net neutrality."

On Media Ownership:

[Question from Ryan Blethen]: "The Federal Communications Commission is in the process of revisiting media ownership rules. Three years ago, the commission rewrote the rules, allowing a company to own a television station, a radio station, a newspaper in the same market. That decision was sent back to the FCC by a federal appellate court. Do you believe the FCC should push changes wanted by the media conglomerates? If so, does Congress need to create laws that promote local and diverse ownership of the press and media?"

Dave Reichert: "That's an issue that I'm not familiar with, and I'll have to pass on that question."

Darcy Burner: "It is important that democracy have the kind of very broad-based voice that I was talking about earlier with respect to net neutrality. The media is an incredibly important vehicle for people to communicate with each other, and for us to understand what's going on civically and in government. What we've been seeing lately is a consolidation of the media under the ownership of a relatively small number of corporations and people. This has happened for a lot of reasons, including some of the changes in ownership rules. But the effect that it has had is that there's a real fear that there isn't enough diversity of voices being heard out there; that the marketplace of ideas is suffering because there aren't enough ideas that people get to hear. So I think it is important that we make sure that we have that diverse ownership, but that we also develop the new forms of communication, like nurturing the Internet, that give us an opportunity to have a very, very broadly based democratic voice."

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