Who owns the media? FCC in Seattle this week

by BILLY JOYCE, Real Change

FCC commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps are coming to Seattle to solicit public opinions on deregulating media ownership.

The Federal Communications Commission, led by Republican chairperson Kevin Martin, is considering lifting a ban which restricts a single company from owning both the major newspaper and major broadcasting system in a single market, expanding the limit on the number of radio stations and TV stations a single company can own in a market, and raising the number of local television stations one company can own.

Martin decided on a list of six cities where the FCC would hold public forums to get feedback on scaling back these regulations; Seattle isn’t one of them.

In response, local non-profit group Reclaim the Media invited the five FCC directors to come out for an informal public hearing. Only Adelstein and Copps agreed to attend.

“We don’t think six hearings is enough. It’s critical that we hold the hearing in Seattle,” Adelstein says. “The Seattle community has been extremely concerned about the issue of media consolidation.”

Media consolidation has direct effects on local programming, competition between media outlets that encourages quality coverage, and the success of minorities and women who own broadcasting companies.

Reclaim the Media co-director Karen Toering asks, “Why are they opening up new rules on media ownership and consolidation” when consolidation sets back women and minority owners?

Toering cites an October study by the national media reform group Free Press that states, “Pro-consolidation policies enacted by the FCC in the late 1990s have indirectly or directly contributed to the loss of 40 percent of the [broadcast TV] stations that were minority-owned in 1998.”

The same study says African Americans and Latinos, who make up 27 percent of the American public, own only 2 percent of all broadcast TV stations. And women, who make up 51 percent of the population, own less than 5 percent of all TV stations.

Allowing giant companies to own more media stands to benefit only a handful of corporations like Disney, Viacom, NBC/GE, News Corp., Time Warner, and Clear Channel, says Toering.

“Further consolidation or merging of these industries means fewer voices and fewer ideas.”

In 2003, the FCC deregulated media ownership rules under then-chairperson Michael Powell. The rules allowed a media company to own up to three TV stations, eight radio stations, the cable channels, and a local newspaper in a single market. And they made these decisions “without seeking meaningful input from the people,” says commissioner Copps in a speech he made during an October public forum in New York.

The FCC then reversed those measures due to public outcry and the work of independent groups like Reclaim the Media and the grassroots organization Prometheus Radio Project, which filed suit.

After the 2003 deregulations, FCC commissioners held an official public hearing in Seattle. This month, locals get to have their voices heard before a decision is made.

“When they do these field hearings, it helps with public education. It allows the public to speak directly to the commission,” Toering says.

The FCC is an independent government agency directly responsible to Congress. It governs all interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. Each of its five commissioners is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate for five-year terms. Only three of the five commissioners can be of the same political party as the president; currently, there are three Republican commissioners and two Democrats, Adelstein and Copps.

Partnering with Reclaim the Media to present this forum are the Minority Executive Directors Coalition, the Seattle Times, KBCS 91.3 FM, and the University of Washington Communications Department.

[Media Democracy]

An panel with FCC commissioners: Thurs., Nov. 30, 6 p.m. at Seattle Public Library’s Main Auditorium. The forum will be hosted by Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen with introductions by Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Jay Inslee.

article originally published at http://www.realchangenews.org/2006/2006_11_22/whoownsthemedia.html.

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