Media ownership debated at FCC's Seattle hearing

[Associated Press and KING 5 News]

Governor Christine Gregoire testified Friday evening at the hearing the Federal Communications Commission held in Seattle.

This was the commission's sixth and final public hearing before voting on rules that govern how many broadcast stations and newspapers a single company may own.

The hearing was scheduled from 4 to 11 p.m. at Town Hall, located at 1119 Eighth Street.

Community leaders from across the Northwest attended to testify at the hearing, followed by open-microphone public testimony on a first-come, first-served basis.

Previous FCC hearings on media ownership issues were held in Los Angeles, Nashville, Harrisburg, Penn., Tampa Bay, Fla., and Chicago, Ill., as commissioners consider raising the number of broadcast stations and newspapers a single media company may own.

Critics say this would limit diversity and viewpoints and could shape news coverage.

"If a company owns four stations in one town, then you don't just see the news operations getting shrunk to one, you see them getting erased," said Jonathan Lawson, of Reclaim the Media. "There are 49 radio stations in the Seattle market. Only five of them have local news rooms. And three of those are non-commercial. I think that's the kind of thing we're looking at if this consolidation happens."

But it is not just news. The Seattle band called Window Pane is a hit at local clubs, but they say they can't get on local radio stations.

"It's very difficult to get the exposure you need," said Mike Echternkamp, drummer.

"Pretty much all the radio stations are controlled by several companies," said Glenn Canon, lead singer.

But station owners couldn't disagree more.

"I have final say over the music, the on-air talent, the station imaging, the commercial production," said Becky Brenner, KMPS- FM program director.

KING 5 is owned by Dallas-based Belo, a company with four newspapers and 20 television stations, including KING, KONG and Northwest Cable News. Ray Heacox, president and general manager of KING, is testifying at the hearing.

Also among those testifying in support of the rules is Mark Allen, the head of the Washington State Association of Broadcasters.

"What we're looking at is the newspaper cross-ownership ban, which prohibits a television station from owning a newspaper in its own coverage area. That's really what wer'e looking at," he said. "Do you have an independent station that's not doing news maybe? That could partner as an ownership proposition with a a newspaper that would provide them with the resources to be able to add another newscast or news voice in the market?"

The hearing

Two panels were planned at the Friday night hearing, each followed by a period for public comment.

The theme of the first panel was "Perspectives on Media Ownership." A sampling of speakers included Mark Allen, President and CEO of the Washington State Association of Broadcasters; Frank Blethen, Publisher/CEO of The Seattle Times; John Carlson, Radio Talk show Host KVI-AM; and Ray Heacox, General Manager of King Broadcasting Seattle.

After a break, the second panel discussion included speakers Abby Dylan, National Board Member, Screen Actors Guild Seattle; Hip-hop journalist and radio programmer Davey D; and Bruce Fife, president, American Federation of Musicians, Local 99.

A live audio cast was available at the FCC's Web site.

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