FCC in Seattle: time to listen

[Seattle Times editorial]

Media ownership matters. It matters to towns, cities, states and regions whether the folks who run the news outlets are of the community.

This used to be the case, but has changed during the past couple of decades because of bad public policy from Congress and the Federal Communications Commission, which have encouraged media consolidation. Media ownership and diversity received help today. Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., introduced the Media Ownership Act of 2007, which would force the FCC to do more than pay lip service to matters of ownership.

The bill has strong bipartisan support from co-sponsors Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. It's a good place to start a national dialogue on media ownership:

• The bill would force the FCC to release final proposals to the public for 90 days of comment.

• The bill requires the FCC to dedicate a process of studying how news outlets serve communities with local news. The commission would again be required to give the public 90 days to comment. The process would have to be completed before a vote on media-ownership rules.

• The FCC would also have to create an independent panel to study broadcast ownership by women and minorities. The panel's recommendations would have to be considered before any vote.

The bill dovetails with an FCC media-ownership hearing in Seattle tonight. If the commissioners have done their homework, they will know that the Puget Sound region is a place with a strong independent streak.

Arguably, the world's best radio station is from Seattle. KEXP-FM is a listener-supported station that sets music trends, and has a worldwide following on the Internet.

The Seattle Times is one of the last family-owned metro newspapers in the country, and Seattle's ABC-TV affiliate is owned locally by Fisher Communications.

Seattle has a vibrant minority press, with publications such as Colors NW and Northwest Asian Weekly.

The media diversity of Seattle is no longer the norm in most American cities. That is why Seattle is the perfect place to conclude the public hearings, and why Seattle needs Lott's and Dorgan's bill, which should be passed by the Senate.

At the very least, it will slow the FCC from adopting disastrous changes to media-ownership rules. The bill should also be used as a steppingstone to a broader discussion about the press, and how to guide it toward more independence.

article originally published at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/editorialsopinion/2004002800_billed09.html.

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