Adelstein: statement at Seattle FCC hearing

It’s a breath of fresh air to get out of the swamp of Washington into the real Washington -- even a snowy and rainy one. And I want to thank the organizers. When we came here [in 2003] it was one of the best hearings we ever attended, and I think its partly attributable to Reclaim the Media, the job from Jonathan Lawson and all of his team. I would like to thank all the organizers, too -- UW of course, we were there last time when we had an amazing turn out as we do tonight and of course all of you for being here. What a fabulous thing for you to do with the weather. You know it really reflects the spirit of this community because you have some of the greatest leaders here that really support what Commissioner Copps and I are trying to do in Washington. Jay Inslee you heard is an incredible fighter for media democracy and for your interest against the interest of one of the most powerful companies in this country, and it takes a lot of guts to do that. And, your senator, Maria Cantwell is on the commerce committee has been a fantastic leader on this issue as well and they are standing up to some of the most powerful countries in the country.

And then, of course there’s Frank Blethen, who is a blessing to those of us who care about this issue. I told them tonight I think you might be the one with his finger in the dike on this newspaper broadcast cost ownership issue. There’s these special few people that hold up the whole world and right now Frank is in a position where he is a critical element in keeping this from spiraling out of control just as he was in the fight of 2003 and it takes enormous guts for him to because all of his friends and colleagues in the industry I think continually are on his case about it and its more difficult then that. I mean you can’t imagine that pressure that he’s under and the kind of courage and bravery that he’s shown in continuing to fight as he has. Thank you Frank.

When we were here three years ago, we didn’t know how it was going to fare. I was really worried frankly that we were going to be overwhelmed by those horses I talked about, that Mike talked about. But when I came here, I was so heartened by the kind of articulate statements that we got from the public, and I think that it was the efforts by people here like we think the media, like all of you that showed that it really turned it around. People rose up in outrage here in Seattle and all across the country at the attempt by then chairman Powell to roll back those media ownership protections.

Unless we rise up again, we may be headed down the same path. But I really know about your noble spirit here, your commitment to this issue, your passion about this issue and your having studied it and becoming aware of its intricacies, I really think that with you here leading the fight with us, that we won’t let it happen again. Now we’re going to be able to fight. I do. And I will always remember that night, we had a program at the Experience Music Project. There was some thumping music going on and I was loving it. One women just kind of came up to me out of the darkness and she said, “Please don’t forget about us, as you work on the future of the media.” And she had this look of real fear and concern and I said to her, “I wouldn’t,” and I say to you that I came back here today because I didn’t forget. I always try to watch out for you, and I’m here today so say I’m still listening.

Its refreshing to hear the voices of the people on this issue. Because after all, the law says our primary obligation is to serve the public interest. That’s all the law says. It doesn’t give us a lot of detail but doesn’t say go and serve the interest of the media giants that seek to profit by using the public airwaves. Now unlike these powerful media companies, you don’t have an army of lobbyist in Washington that are well paid in their gushy loafers wandering the halls, but then again why should you? That’s supposedly the job of the FCC if we truly carried out the law. But unfortunately, in recent years, the FCC really has failed to step up and protect your interest. They’ve forgotten that the public airwaves belong to the American people. They’ve forgotten that it’s the public’s interest that is paramount -- not the special commercial interest of the media giants. They’ve forgotten that the ownership of broadcast media is about very heart of our democracy. These days we hear a lot about the importance of spreading freedom and democracy around the globe.

Well how about improving the quality of freedom and democracy right here in America? Right here in Seattle? I should mention that I’m a musician and you know Seattle of course is where grunge music was founded -- and how does something like that get started if it doesn’t get played on local radio? How would Motown get started if it didn’t get heard in the radio in Detroit? But these days, as you go across the country, it’s the same everywhere you go -- from coast to coast. I think today if Elvis Presley was playing he would probably throw down his guitar in disgust because he couldn’t get played on the radio. I was on my way here and I rented a great movie I recommend to all of you on good media consolidation movies as it turns out the Prairie Home Companion. About this homely little show on the radio in a town and this big media conglomerate out of Texas decides to buy up that local station from a local owner. And, guess what? They’re going to take that show off the air. Before it goes though, one women says when this show goes, pretty soon there won’t be anything left on radio but people yelling at you and computers playing music.

That’s pretty much what its come to. But we’ve licensed these stations to local communities to serve local audiences but what’s happened? You see, fewer, and fewer media companies getting more and more control over the means of distributing ideas. That means fewer small businesses. Fewer and fewer women, and minorities, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, can use the public airwaves to contribute to our national experience. Mike Copps explained the result. The incredible distortion of the reality of American that we see on the media. When it comes to local newscasts, they are dominated with sensationalism, dominated with crime stories which I believe that leads as little useful information and even less government and election information that people can use to make their decisions in a democracy. Because we succeeded in rolling back those rules that Michael Powell tried to hoist upon us, I think we have the opportunity now to get it right, to go back.

And that’s why were here today, because we want to hear your views on the current rules. We really do want to hear from you because everywhere we go, we get incredible insight from people about how the community is serving, how the media is serving your community. What’s happening right here in this area? The way the majority is set up, the debate this year over the objection to Commissioner Copps and I, you might have no chance to see the final product before were forced to vote on it. You deserve better. Especially after the court recognized last time the importance of public input, you need to demand that you have the chance to review specific proposals before and not after they are finalized. You need to demand that the FCC complete a localism proceeding that we have had going on for three years before, not after, we rule on media ownership. And you need to demand that we properly study and support any changes we make with facts this time and not the blind ideology.

We have a relatively dynamic media here in Seattle compared to some places around the country that we go but imagine if one company was able to own two local TV stations, the local newspaper, 8 radio stations, the cable company and all the internet portals that go along with that. What would this community be deprived of? How much less dues would you get? How many fewer reporters would you have chasing the stories and how much poorer would this community be? And already we see the place it leads with this approach. It might be good for the ratings, for the bottom line, but when it’s the life blood of our democracy were talking about, that’s what bleeding when positive aspects of our communities aren’t covered. When in-depth coverage of local news and public affairs disappears, when real investigative journalism and is replaced with video news releases that aren’t disclosed to you. When local news becomes a series of crime stories punctuated by traffic and weather, our democracy suffers.

One study found that community public affairs programming accounted for less then one half of one percent of the local TV coverage in this country. But guess what, infomercials accounted for 14.4% of paid programming for things like ab crunches. So well with all these infomercials we are getting tight abs but I’m afraid were getting a flabby democracy. We can do better. As the president of the Writer Guild West, said that homogenization is good for milk but is bad for politics. So my friends, American people here own the public airwaves, you own the public airwaves, we’re here to hear from the owners because were just the people that are watching out for you supposedly and that’s what Mike and I are doing and I hope we get all the commissioners to do it. If your voice is heard loud and clear, it can give them no other choice. Media ownership is about the power to control your airwaves, you’ve licensed it to people to serve your interest and we’re going to make sure that they are held accountable.

So tonight we want to hear from you about how well the FCC is doing its job here in Seattle, how well the local media outlets are serving your interest, reflecting the diversity of the people here and the diversity of interests and concerns you have so as a legendary statesman from the south, that is California Will Brown said it takes greater skills to listen then to speak. So, I’m now going to exercise my skills and listen to you for as long as you will be here this evening. We will hear you out. Thank you so much for being here tonight.

article originally published at .

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