Not From Concentrate: FCC Comes to Philadelphia

by Gwen Shaffer, Philadelphia Weekly

In 2003 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) attempted to relax media ownership rules—and allow media giants to own and operate even more broadcast and print outlets in a single market. In response to that ruling a group of outraged media activists from Philadelphia sued the agency. A federal judge considered their argument—along with the more than 3 million public comments opposing greater media concentration—and struck down the FCC’s decision.

Last June the FCC announced it would once again consider allowing media conglomerates to expand the number of news outlets they’re allowed to own in a single market. And Philadelphians will have the chance to express concerns about the possible rule change when two Democratic FCC commissioners, Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps, headline an unofficial public hearing at Temple University this Thursday evening. The panel will bring together representatives from local civic, broadcast and print organizations to address the complex questions surrounding media consolidation.

“We need local residents to stand up and tell federal regulators we want them to lead the charge for media diversity,” says Mike Rosenberg, campaign coordinator for Media Tank, a nonprofit working to increase community participation in the U.S. media system, and the forum’s lead sponsor.

By limiting the number of newspapers, radio stations and television stations a single entity may own, the federal government aims to ensure diverse and independent viewpoints are seen and heard in every media market. But if the FCC were to lift ownership caps, it would give the green light to major companies like News Corporation, Clear Channel, Disney, General Electric and CBS to swallow up even more local outlets.

Federal regulations should protect the rights of media consumers, not the bottom lines of broadcasters and publishers, Rosenberg adds. “That was forgotten during the reign of the last FCC chair,” he says, referring to former agency head Michael Powell. Republican Kevin Martin now heads up the FCC.
ADVERTISEMENT

The prospects for a more democratic media system are looking up now that Democrats hold key leadership positions in U.S House and Senate committees, Rosenberg acknowledges. “But Martin retains the authority to make rules that bypass congressional input,” Rosenberg stresses.

Democratic legislators have dozens of issues on their agenda, “and corporate control of public communication doesn’t seem to be one of them,” adds Jan Fernback, assistant professor in Temple’s Department of Broadcasting, Telecommunications & Mass Media. “The media conglomerates have some of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington, D.C.—they had significant influence over the Telecommunications Act of 1996.”

John Kailin, executive director for the local chapter of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists—which represents performers, journalists and others working in the entertainment and news media—says the trend toward consolidation slashes the number of independent and fully staffed newsrooms available for his union members.

“Plus, the fewer independent media outlets available, the fewer choices people have for getting information,” says Kailin, who’s participating in Thursday’s panel. “I hope the event will both send a message to the FCC and raise public awareness.”

The forum is part of a series of meetings being hosted nationwide. In addition to the featured speakers, members of the public are encouraged to share comments and ask questions about the impact of media concentration in their communities.

Concetta Stewart, dean of Temple’s School of Communications and Theater, will moderate the forum. Philadelphia City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who recently sponsored a resolution urging the FCC not to weaken media ownership rules, will also participate.

article originally published at http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/view.php?id=13822.

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