FCC testimony on media ownership: John Sandifer

Good evening Commissioners. My name is John Sandifer, executive director of the Seattle Local of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). We have seen each other before. I really want to start by speaking on behalf of our members and applauding – particularly you two commissioners – for getting out here into the hinterlands and letting us have an opportunity to tell you what we think about that. You are our heroes.

As a former broadcaster, I really want to get my time here. So many others have not. I know you are familiar with AFTRA because of our appearance here before, our written argumentation filed in Washington, D.C., and appearance of our offices and members on October 3 (I think) in Los Angeles – which was a huge turnout.

So, to localize our comments from Seattle… AFTRA represents more than 1,000 professional performers in a wide range of radio, television, commercial, and music endeavors that depend on free and competitive broadcast outlets for their livelihoods. And, in turn, the community depends – or should be able to depend – on us to provide them the very best and most diverse menu of thought and artistic expression.

The pattern in television here has generally been for two or three network affiliated stations to deliver news over as many as six stations and one or two cable systems. They have also formed strategic alliances with the newspapers for content delivery, but I think that has been as much a matter of economics and convenience as it has been consolidation. In fact, generally, those television stations that have had radio have divested themselves of that.

We are hit with absentee ownership. For instance, at the present time, four of the five major commercial stations that deliver a news product are owned by Viacom, CBS, Below Cox Tribune – one station is locally owned. The Belo Corporation, as others have said, operates KING, KONG, and Northwest Cable News. I would simply suggest that if you add ownership consolidation to the effect of competition in cable, computer, cell-phone, and I-pod competition – and the incessant clicking of that remove control device – what happens is the bottom line often takes over the right of citizens to have their airwaves used for the collective benefit.

In radio in this market, ownership consolidation has resulted in four large conglomerates owning and operating 88% of the top 20 or 25 stations. Those are Clear Channel, Infinity, Intercom, and Sandusky. In Portland, these same enterprises operate 16 of the top 20 stations. I want to turn over the rest of my time to our local president and a professional broadcaster, Steve Krueger, who has a handle on radio news.

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