Ignoring Cantwell and Inslee, FCC rushes to conclude nationwide ownership debate in Seattle

[Reclaim the Media statement]

On Friday afternoon, Chairman Kevin Martin of the Federal Communications Commission announced that the FCC will hold the last of six official hearings on media ownership on November 9, at Seattle's Town Hall. The hearing, announced just five business days in advance despite a request from Senator Cantwell and Congressman Inslee to give at least four weeks' notice, will be the only chance for Northwest residents to weigh in on proposed changes that would dramatically alter both national and local media landscapes. A significant proposed change would allow one media company to consolidate a town or city's newspaper, TV and radio station under single ownership, and single editorial control.

"It's appalling that the FCC would schedule a hearing of such importance with so little public notice," said Jonathan Lawson, Executive Director of Reclaim the Media. "The FCC needs to hear from rural people, Native Americans, immigrants, working people and others who often get sidelined both in the media and in public debates on the media. Unfortunately, Martin's disrespectful timing says to these same communities, 'we don't care what you think about the media.'"

The Seattle hearing is scheduled to take place from 4pm to 11pm on Friday, Nov. 9, at Town Hall Seattle. The FCC has not announced schedule details, but the hearing will likely begin with expert panels followed by open-microphone public testimony. At stake are the FCC's rules governing media ownership. The existing rules include a cap on nationwide ownership of TV stations, limits on how many radio and TV stations a company may own in a single community, and a ban on "cross-ownership," or owning both the major newspaper and one or more broadcast stations in the same community.

In 2003, then-FCC Chair Michael Powell oversaw a sweeping deregulation of the ownership rules, in order to allow the country's largest media owners to buy even more TV and radio stations, and to own newspapers, TV and radio stations in the same cities. That move immediately proved to be the least popular decision in the agency's history. Millions of Americans signed petitions demanding that Congress act to protect media diversity by restoring or strengthening the earlier limits. The FCC's decision was overturned by the Third Circuit Court, and last year the agency was forced back to the drawing board.

The rushed timing of the Nov. 9 hearing comes as part of a concerted effort by Martin to wrap up the ownership proceeding by the end of 2008. Last week Martin gave similarly short notice of a Washington, DC hearing on localism. The Seattle hearing will be the last of six concerning media ownership; earlier hearings took place in Los Angeles, Nashville, Harrisburg, Tampa, and Chicago.

Lawson added: "This hearing is a rare opportunity for people in the Northwest to weigh in on a debate of real national importance. The health of our media sets the baseline for our political participation, our cultural expression and our knowledge about the rest of the world. Whether people are concerned about media bias, the lack of diverse voices in the news, runaway commercialism or the dumbing-down of political debate, it's important to understand that who owns the channels we watch has a huge impact."

Reclaim the Media is a Seattle-based nonprofit organization which has provided public education and advocacy on media issues, including media ownership, since 2002. The group is part of the national Media and Democracy Coalition and the Media Action Grassroots Network.

FCC rules at stake: www.fcc.gov/ownership Reclaim the Media: www.reclaimthemedia.org

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