Reclaim the Media responds to FCC ruling

Responding to today's FCC decision to lift caps on local and national media ownership limits, Pacific Northwest-based media reform advocates remain optimistic that unprecedented public pressure will convince Congress to step in with reform measures. A broad coalition of organizations hopes not only that the new changes will be reversed, but that unprecedented public interest in media policy issues will pave the way for more progressive reforms favoring greater local accountability and diversity in our media, including reform of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Today's controversial decision, which the FCC passed as expected on a 3-2 party-line vote, will allow a single company to own television stations reaching well over half of the public, to own two or even three TV stations in many markets, and to own both a TV station and a newspaper in the same community. In the Pacific Northwest, geographically isolated markets will soon find themselves without locally produced news, culture, and entertainment. The FCC's changes will cost thousands of jobs in the industry nationally, and will result in higher advertising rates in every market.

"This is already the most widely unpopular decision the FCC has ever made," said Jonathan Lawson of the Seattle-based group Reclaim the Media, which opposed the rule changes. "This ruling will have potentially devastating consequences for local news media, regional culture, journalistic freedom, children's programming, and public access to diverse political views. It's hard to see how anyone will benefit at all, except for the stockholders of a few media conglomerates."

During its consideration of the media ownership issue, the FCC received comments from over three quarters of a million people, with comments opposing deregulation "by 99.9%," according to Commissioner Michael Copps. This response was utterly unprecedented for any issue before the FCC. Additionally, in the last few months, close to150 Senators and Representatives have taken public stands against media ownership deregulation and the dispatched secrecy with which FCC Chairman Michael Powell rushed towards today's vote, indeed not revealing the specific contents of the changes until this morning.

The regulations revised today are intended to uphold the FCC's traditional values of local accountability, competition and content diversity. During today's hearing, Commissioner Michael Copps blasted the new rule changes, saying that "I see centralization, not localism; I see uniformity, not diversity; I see monopoly and oligarchy, not competition."

In a region already rocked by recession and unemployment, the FCC rule changes will result in the loss of jobs in the newspaper, television, radio and related industries. Michael Weisman, an attorney and policy advisor for Reclaim the Media, points out: "The FCC's own studies indicate that firms that must advertise, like the Bon Marche or Nordstrom's, will pay significantly higher rates for advertising, whether it is in print, on TV, or radio. They have few options, and those increased costs must be passed on to consumers in higher prices."

Groups advocating more democratic media policy reform say that their campaign is far from over. According to Lawson, "This issue will certainly end up in the Congress, and probably the courts as well. The FCC has contemptuously ignored their mandate to serve the public interest, and citizens across the country will demand that Congress intervene, not only to restore the old limits, but to go further in the direction of media policy that benefits local communities, not giant corporations."

There is at least one recent precedent for Congress to overrule the FCC. In 2000, broadcasting industry interests lobbied Congress to overrule an FCC decision which would have created hundreds of low-power, noncommercial community radio stations.

Reclaim the Media is part of the growing media reform movement, organizing on the national level for consumer-oriented media policy reform, while supporting media literacy education and increased public access to communications resources through community media production. The group, founded in spring 2002, organized last September's national "Reclaim the Media" conference and March's "Future of Media" program at the Experience Music Project.

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