FCC's Media Ownership Proceeding Will Hurt National Security

by ,

from the Center for Digital Democracy

Questions Must be Raised about FCC's Ability to Protect the Public Interest

Washington, DC -- The Federal Communications Commission launched a proceeding today that will lead to the erosion of long-standing safeguards designed to ensure that the public can receive information, opinions and ideas from a robust array of sources. In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC set in motion changes that will place control of the nation's TV stations, broadcast networks, and major daily newspapers in the hands of fewer giant corporations.

Among the rules at stake include a long-standing safeguard designed to prevent common ownership of a TV station and a newspaper in a single community (broadcast cross- ownership); the National Broadcast Ownership Cap, created to ensure that communities are served by local/and or diverse owners, instead of the major networks; and policies that now prohibit one major TV network from acquiring another (dual network rule).

"The next twelve months may be one of the most critical periods in the history of US communications," explained Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit public interest group. "The Notice unveiled today will lead to more cross-ownership of broadcast outlets and newspapers. Given the concurrent FCC proposal that will weaken cable TV system ownership limits (due out later this year), as few as two companies could control that industry." Recent Commission actions have also put competition and diversity on the Internet at risk by moving to eliminate "open access" and content nondiscrimination requirements on broadband networks. "Soon, one company in a town will be able to control the newspaper, several TV and radio stations, the cable system, and the principal ISP," Chester noted.

The weakening of media ownership safeguards is also a threat to our national security. September 11th and the subsequent Enron, WorldCom, and Adelphia Cable revelations caught us and the news media unaware. The lobbying efforts for scuttling federal media ownership policy have enabled a few companies to own more outlets, but have been accompanied by cutbacks in local and national newsroom budgets. Media deregulation has meant fewer foreign bureaus, investigative reporters, and resources for journalists, while at the same time we have seen a greater focus on bottom-line tabloid programming.

"The country cannot afford another wave of consolidation designed to bolster the bottom line of a few at the expense of our democracy. Chairman Powell and the DC Court of Appeals have based their criticism of these rules on incomplete information, often supplied by self-serving media industry interests," said Chester. "The studies underway by the FCC are insufficient to develop a truly independent record that will protect the public. We call on the Commission to engage the country in a national debate about media ownership, involving leading independent academics, journalists, political scientists, civic and nonprofit leaders."

CDD is launching a web-based campaign today that will enable the public to send letters to Congress urging opposition to today's proposals. See http://www.democraticmedia.org/getinvolved/ownershipNPRM_Action.html for information.

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