FCC urged not to relax ownership rules

by Eric Pryne, Seattle Times

A parade of Washingtonians — some prominent, some not-so — urged the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday to resist big-media pressure to loosen rules limiting how many local media outlets one company can own.

They were preaching to the choir. The two FCC commissioners in attendance, Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, joined in denouncing media consolidation and what they said were its corrosive effects on democracy.

But "it is not a slam-dunk that the forces of right and truth and justice are going to prevail here," Copps warned.

The FCC announced in the summer that it would review its media-ownership rules. While the agency has proposed no changes yet, many of the 400 people at Thursday night's forum at the Seattle Public Library feared the commission's Republican majority eventually will adopt something similar to revisions it approved in 2003.

A federal appeals-court panel later blocked those changes. Among other things, they would have relaxed limits on how many TV stations a company can own in one market, and repealed a 1975 rule that prohibits a company from owning broadcast outlets and a daily newspaper in the same city.

Now large media companies — including the out-of-town owners of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Seattle TV stations KING, KIRO and KCPQ — are pushing the FCC to adopt those revisions again.

"We're right back at square one," Copps said. "We can either stand up and make a difference or sit back and watch local media be gutted."

Political activist Monica Hill sounded a similar theme. "The public wants less monopoly, not more," she said. "If a march on Washington would help, you let us know."

Others who spoke against relaxing the rules, or media consolidation in general, included Seattle City Councilwoman Jean Godden, University of Washington President Mark Emmert, and Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen. The Times co-sponsored the event.

Several speakers suggested corporate media was partly responsible for leading the nation into the war in Iraq by failing to challenge the Bush administration's assertions.

Radio talk-show host and former Republican gubernatorial candidate John Carlson said deregulation is fine, but not when it leads to "massive consolidation."

He said just three of Seattle's top 30 radio stations are locally owned now, and local content has suffered as a result.

Despite the two commissioners' presence, Thursday's forum was not one of the six official hearings the FCC will hold on media ownership rules.

One hearing already has been held in Los Angeles, and another is scheduled for Nashville. Locations for the other four have not been announced.

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, and the other six U.S. House members from Western Washington sent a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin asking him to hold one of the four in Washington state.

article originally published at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003456307_fcchearing01.html.

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