'Bombshell' testimony at DC hearing blasts flawed FCC research

[Free Press statement]

More than 250 people packed the hearing room at Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday to voice their opposition to media consolidation. Testimony from members of the StopBigMedia.com Coalition challenged the FCC's rush toward relaxing media ownership rules.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein closely questioned S. Derek Turner, research director of Free Press, after his testimony -- which used the FCC's own data to show that allowing one company to own both the major daily newspaper and broadcast outlets in the same market diminishes local news coverage.

Martin has called for the removal of a longstanding ban on "newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership." But Turner's research refutes claims that consolidation creates more news. Copps called Turner's findings "a bombshell."

The disgracefully low level of media ownership by women and people of color was raised by numerous panelists, who criticized the Commission for failing to address this crucial issue before changing any media ownership rules. Lisa Fager Bediako, president of Industry Ears, said that "women of color, people of color are treated as if they are invisible, unimportant, a last thought" by the media.

"We believe that media diversity is a civil rights issue," said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "As consolidation grows, localism suffers and diversity dwindles. Local ownership of broadcast outlets means better coverage for the communities they serve. Yet even in our nation's capital, it is difficult to find newspaper, television and radio content that accurately showcases the breadth and diversity of our unique version of the American experience."

"Before the Commission makes any decisions regarding relaxation of the ownership rules, it has an obligation to implement proposals designed to ensure that both minorities and women are given meaningful opportunities to own broadcast radio and television stations," added Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. "NOW urges the Commission to focus more attention on the lack of female and minority broadcast ownership and to develop rules and policies designed to remedy this growing problem."

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, challenged Martin to convene a task force on minority ownership. "We need the independent, bipartisan minority ownership task force that Commissioner Adelstein has proposed," he said, "and we need to give this task force the time it needs to study the problem."

The hearing in Washington was the last of six official public hearings on localism originally proposed by former FCC Chairman Michael Powell in 2003. Hundreds of people attended, despite the fact that the hearing wasn't announced until the night of Oct. 24 and neither the Washington Post nor any of the local TV affiliates of the major networks covered the event in advance.

"Sadly, in the wake of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the number of good broadcasters is diminishing, and the number of mediocre broadcasters is increasing," said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president and CEO of Media Access Project. "The intensity of public concern about this is something the Commission should not and cannot ignore. Despite obvious attempts to minimize public attendance at events such as this, thousands of Americans have shown up to tell you how much they care."

The panelists were united in their opposition to Martin's proposed changes, which would remove longstanding limits on media ownership. And they warned that the agency's accelerated timetable was ignoring popular input and the available evidence.

"Until the Commission provides a detailed analysis of the impact of ownership limits on localism, it should not issue a final rule," said Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America. "Simply rolling it all into one humungous order will do a disservice to the good, hard work that went into the localism initiative and put us back at square one."

Hundreds of people rallied outside the FCC for more than an hour before the hearing, chanting "No tricks today" and "Stop Big Media."

"The FCC is faced with a choice: listen to the concerns of Wall Street, or listen to the concerns of Main Street," Turner said. "The public is tired of these companies using our airwaves as personal ATMs. They want the FCC to say 'no' to more consolidation, and say 'yes' to local accountability, diversity in ownership, and the public interest."

For more information on the hearing and the rally, visit stopbigmedia.com.

To read the prepared testimony of the panelists, click on the links below:

Marc Cooper

Kim Gandy

Wade Henderson

Jesse Jackson

Andrew Jay Schwartzman

S. Derek Turner

article originally published at .

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