Cantwell on importance of media diversity

Comments of Senator Maria Cantwell on the floor of the US Senate, 15 May 2008, immediately after the Senate passed a resolution to overturn the FCC's Dec. 08 decision to deregulate media cross-ownership.

Ms. CANTWELL: Mr. President, for those who may not have observed that voice vote, it was a very positive result for the voices of America supporting diversity...

...Praise should go to Senator Dorgan for his leadership on this issue for the last year-plus time, continuing to make sure the Senate holds the FCC accountable for their actions, trying to pass a rule on media consolidation when they know there have been dissenting views all across America about this issue. Certainly there has been a dissent from the Senate.

The ownership of broadcast and print media does touch on some of the core values Americans hold for freedom of speech, open and diverse viewpoints, to have vibrant economic competition from a variety of sources, and local diversity.

Attention to diversity and localism has served our economy well and has also provided us a good civics lesson. These opportunities--when we hear from small companies, when we hear from minorities, when we hear from women--are the types of diversity we want to protect. We did that tonight.

The diversity in media does energize our democracy. Viewpoint diversity that comes from the various views that can now be expressed are key to making us a stronger nation.

Having independent sources of news helps citizens to take opinions, not just locally but nationally and even globally. That is why I am glad we stopped the FCC from moving forward on their media consolidation proposal.

I remind my colleagues of the history here because I have a feeling this issue may come up again. Back in 2002, the FCC initiated its biennial review process, announcing the agency would fulfill and review the full range of broadcast ownership rules, but the announcement of the review was the only thing that was truly conducted in public.

On June 23, 2003, on a 3-to-2 party line vote, the FCC issued its new rules on media consolidation. Then-Chairman Powell did not issue the proposed rule for public comment prior to the vote.

The reason I am bringing this up is because what ensued is millions of people sent e-mails and weighed in with postcards and petitions to oppose the rule. In fact, the Senate sent a very clear message to the FCC at the time invalidating that proposed media consolidation proposal.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the FCC decision from 2003 and they determined it was ``not supported by reasonable analysis.''

What happened after that? Obviously there were a lot of people in loud chorus saying they disapproved of the FCC's action to further concentrate the media in this country. In 2007 the FCC passed the new media ownership rule, barely a month after it was proposed, allowing for little public comment and for even less time for consideration of the comments that came in. I know Chairman Martin likes to talk about allowing public comment for over 120 days and 6 hearings around the country, but all of that was done before the rule was even out there in public, what the actual changes would be.

In one example, they came to Seattle on November 9 and I think we had a mere 1-week notice for that. They had the meeting on a Friday afternoon. I think it was a 3-day weekend. Maybe they thought no one would show up, but it does not take a lot of notice in Seattle to get people to show up for a hearing about media consolidation, so 800 people showed up and spent 9 hours letting the Commission know their thoughts on what they thought the impact of increased media concentration would be.

It would hurt competition. It would lessen diversity. It would impact localism and was not in the broader public interest. I know Chairman Martin received an earful in Seattle, but clearly he didn't pay much attention to what we said, because a few days later he proposed new media ownership rules. They were released in a November 13 op-ed piece, I think in the New York Times, in a Commission press release.

So what we are saying is we do not like the process which the FCC pursued in not having the broadest public comment in this, and also when it looks at some of the issues that were discussed in trying to validate why the Commission continues to try to push for media consolidation.

I think it is very important. We have seen a pattern emerge. We see economic studies from the Commission where they cannot hold up to peer review, where data are not supportive of the predetermined conclusions that the FCC had, and that maybe they were ``checking the box'' when it comes to these public hearings and maybe giving mere lip service to localism and to women and minority ownership issues.

So all of those issues are going to continue to be duly noted by the Commerce Committee, and certainly we are going to continue to fight on this issue. The FCC media ownership rules were created decades ago to foster these longstanding goals that our country has to promote competition, to promote localism, to have diversity of voices.

The courts and industry experts and elected officials of all ranks across America have come together in an overwhelming chorus saying ``no'' to the FCC move to try to further consolidate the media.

I am glad my colleagues tonight as well disapproved of their action so we can continue to have the diversity of voices in America that I believe my constituents and Americans all across this country deserve.

article originally published at .

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