FCC Changes Broadcast-Newspaper Owner Ban

WASHINGTON (AP)— The Federal Communications Commission in a party-line, 3-2 vote, agreed Tuesday to overturn a 32-year-old ban and allow broadcasters in the nation's 20 largest media markets to also own a newspaper.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was joined by his two Republican colleagues in favor of the proposal, while the commission's two Democrats voted against it.

Martin pushed the vote through despite intense pressure from House and Senate members on Capitol Hill to delay it. The chairman, however, has the support of the White House, which has pledged to turn back any congressional action that seeks to undo the agency vote.

This is a tragic day for American society, and a justice issue for Christians to pray about and to act on. Today’s FCC decision overturned rules designed to support diversity of opinion and competition among news suppliers.

The number of media corporations that dominate our media has shrunk over the past 25 years from 50 to a very few elite conglomerates. Nearly 70 percent of the basic service channels on cable are owned by only a few companies like Comcast, Viacom, AOL Time Warner, Disney, General Electric, and the News Corporation. A significant number of the nearly 300 national television programming networks are owned by just 14 companies. Eighty percent of the country's daily papers are now owned by conglomerates.

The last time the FCC, led by another Republican (Michael K. Powell), attempted to relax the media ownership rules, they lost a major court challenge. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia concluded that the commission had failed to adequately justify the new rules, especially in light of overwhelming public outcry not to go through with the change.

Today’s FCC, chaired by Republican Kevin Martin, went through the motions of having public hearings before this latest decision, though it was very clear that Martin was not truly interested in hearing the public’s opinion. His mind was so made up in spite of public outcry that he wrote an Op/Ed piece for The New York Times last month before the final hearing in Seattle.

Seattle Congressman Jay Inslee, a member of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications looked at Martin in a recent congressional hearing and said, “When you have 1,000 people staying till 1:00 at night on a Friday, on the next Tuesday morning in The New York Times we see an op-ed by the chairman saying that he's going to propose rules that would basically ignore the testimony of these hundreds of people in Seattle the Friday before. Now, that troubles me because apparently, this is an op-ed that I can't believe wasn't written before this testimony was even listened to, and my folks in Seattle believe that they were treated like a bunch of chumps out in there that they had the FCC come out, fake like you're listening to them, and the deal was already done.”

The congressional leaders in both the House and Senate were stunned that the FCC would go ahead with the decision today in spite of the opposition from both Republican and Democrats.

In fact, senators from the two parties, Democrat Byron Dorgan and Republican Trent Lott, introduced legislation in November to halt the FCC’s decision to ease media ownership rules.

"We believe localism and diversity of media ownership is vital in a democracy," Senator Dorgan said. "Our bill recognizes the importance of a wide range of media owners and local content, and requires a process that does not rush past those concerns to open the gates for even more consolidation of media ownership. We believe there is value to local ownership in the media."

"Communities count on getting their local news from their locally-owned television stations and weekly and daily newspapers," Senator Lott said. "They know 'locally-owned' means they're invested in their communities and care about their well-being. If the FCC won't do their job to keep East and West coast media conglomerates from pushing out these local voices, then there is a role for the Congress to play."

In Martin’s New York Times op/ed, he proclaimed that we must allow newspaper corporations to buy television stations or radio stations in markets in which they already own newspapers, warning that “if we don’t act to improve the health of the newspaper industry, we will see newspapers wither and die.”

While it is true that newspaper circulation and profits are down, newspaper corporations still generate profit margins that are greater than Fortune 500 corporations. Also, according to Scarborough Research, “When online readers are considered, the story of newspaper readership for many papers transforms from one of slow and steady decline to one of vibrancy and growth.”

It is an injustice that the FCC's Martin has placed the media conglomerates' interest in profit above that of the public interest.

Let’s pray for justice in media ownership. We need mass media that is free to report the news unencumbered by the eye of corporate big money and free from a homogenized view of just a few conglomerates. Diversity of opinion and news-media competition are essential for the public to have a truly free press.

For a helpful in-depth report on this issue, see this video from Bill Moyers:

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fanuv24 said...

This is a tragic day for American society, and a justice issue for Christians to pray about and to act on.

Aw, c'mon, Bob, are you serious? A "tragic" day? A "justice" issue? I don't know that this is even a particularly bad decision. We live in a different world. There are a zillion more news outlets now than ever before. People can go online and get their news from whatever source they like, from the far left to the far right and everything in-between.

I mean, have an opinion on this issue; fine. It might be a bad idea; it might be a good one. But it strikes me as a stretch, to say the least, to describe it in the terms you have.

And I wouldn't trust Bill Moyers to give me the straight skinny on the weather if we were both standing in a blizzard. Whatever you think of Bill O'Reilly, I think the same of Mr. Moyers, dude...

But I love you in Christ anyway...

Bob Robinson said...

Byron (fanuv24),

Yes, it IS tragic. In America, the mass media is of utmost importance in our society's struggle for justice. Local media outlets are still the key to this. The internet has national left- or right-wing blogs and websites, but the most visited sites are owned by huge conglomerates that also own the newspapers and broadcast news outlets. And these internet sites have very little news and variety of opinion from local vantage points.

Christians should see this as a justice issue because we should be fighting for many diversified voices and true competition so that our society's freedom is protected.

I've been studying mass media for over 25 years, and I am shocked that not more people are in an uproar about this. When did we stop needing to debate issues locally? When did we allow money to determine who owns free broadcast rights of local media? What happened to the notion that broadcasters and newspapers should not be owned by the few, the elite, the powerful and the rich? What happened to our concern about conflict of interest laws? What happened to the FCC's mandate to regulate the public airways for the sake of the public? When did we allow the FCC to capitulate to corporate money instead of fulfilling their mandate?

A free and just society must have mass media that is free to report the news unencumbered by the eye of corporate big money and free from a homogenized view of just a few conglomerates.

Bob Robinson said...

From "The Devil is in the Details" from stopbigmedia.com:

FACT #1: Martin’s ‘modest’ proposal is corporate welfare for Big Media. Martin’s plan would unleash a buying spree in the top 20 markets, making it easier for companies like Belo, News Corp. and Tribune Co. to push out independent, local owners.

FACT #2: Loopholes open the door to cross-ownership in any market. Under Martin’s loose standards, cross-ownership waivers could be approved in hundreds of smaller cities and towns.

FACT #3: Loopholes allow newspapers to own TV stations of any size. The same technicalities could permit top-rated stations in any market to combine with major

FACT #4: FCC history shows weak standards won’t protect the public. The current rules forbid cross-ownership, but the FCC hasn’t denied any temporary waiver request
in years.

FACT #5: Cross-ownership doesn’t create more local news. The latest studies — using the FCC’s own data — show that markets with cross-ownership produce less total local news, as one dominant company crowds out the competition.

FACT #6: Cross-ownership won’t solve newspapers’ financial woes. Claims that the newspaper industry is about to “wither and die” are greatly exaggerated, and no evidence shows that cross-ownership would make things better.

FACT # 7: The Internet is an opportunity, not a death sentence. Mergers and consolidation are not the answer to the financial problems of the traditional media.

FACT #8: Martin’s plan would harm minority media owners. Nearly half of the nation’s minority-owned TV stations are lower-rated outlets in the top 20 markets, making them a target for Big Media takeovers.

FACT # 9: A broken and corrupt process creates bad policies. The FCC’s lack of transparency, flawed research and secret timetable have tossed aside basic fairness and accountability in the rush to change media ownership rules.

FACT # 10: The public doesn’t want more media consolidation. Martin’s actions ignore the millions of Americans — and 99 percent of the comments in the FCC docket — who oppose letting a few media giants swallow up more local media.

fanuv24 said...

Guess I just have a different definition of the word "tragic", and it seems like a stretch to me to call it a "justice issue", but hey, you're passionate about it, so go for it. I'm not saying you're wrong on this one; I just don't see it as warranting such terminology. I did note that folks from across the political spectrum had concerns about this (Brent Bozell and Wayne LaPierre, in addition to Bill Moyers and Danny Glover), so I guess it is at least a non-partisan thing.

Perhaps one of the reasons that there isn't the uproar, the absence of which shocks you, is that I doubt many folks really grasp the issues involved. My own grasp is tenuous at best, I do confess. I might benefit from a "from square one" big-picture kind of thing. And if I would, so probably would some others. It's sort of abstract for me right now. Heck, maybe you'll even convince me that it's the big deal you think it is!

fanuv24 said...

Oh, and by the way, I use "fanuv24" because I can't figure out why Blogger seems to keep changing things, and I got myself signed in using that, and I don't want to mess it up, because Blogger confuses the heck out of me.

Bob Robinson said...

Blogger has expanded the way you can sign in.
You can use sign in with any of the following:
blogger/google sign in name and password,
AOL/AIM member screen name,
LiveJournal username,
TypeKey member name,
WordPress blog name, or
"Open ID" where you can type in your web address.

fanuv24 said...

OK, trying that...nope, couldn't get it to work. Put in my blog name, my URL (what's "any open ID" mean?). See what I mean about it being confusing? It doesn't let me do what I want to intuitively. It ain't worth fooling with, IMHO. I guess I'll just be fanuv24.

Byron Harvey said...

A-ha! Just changed my Blogger profile. So now, I'm...me!