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Date Posted: 22:29:21 03/15/05 Tue
Author: No name
Subject: FCC Position on Media Consolidation
In reply to: 's message, "Annenberg Business is Now Clear Channel" on 22:21:31 03/15/05 Tue

On June 2, 2003, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) led by Chairman Michael Powell, voted to give corporate media giants even more control of our publicly-owned airwaves. Opponents to consolidation who ranged from the National Rifle Association (NRA) to National Organization of Women (NOW) and Media Alliance to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) protested various aspects of the rulings. The public filed over three million comments, almost all of which opposed further consolidation but the Powell majority of three Republican commissioners bulldozed past popular opposition
Fortunately, a court case by MA and our allies has held up the impending cascade of mega-mergers until at least February 11, 2004. This temporary victory is the only thing—several half-hearted Congressional efforts notwithstanding—that has kept the horrible, pro-consolidation rules from going in to effect. In a decision September 3, 2003 the Third Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with us that the potential harm of these rules could be so great that a full judicial hearing was needed to assess the potential impacts. That hearing will take place February 11, 2004 in Philadelphia.
Legal Maneuvering Buys Time
Media Alliance originally brought the motion to stay the rules in the Ninth Circuit on behalf of our members (California media workers, nonprofits and community members interested in a diverse and accountable media) who would be irreparably harmed by further media consolidation. The case is being heard in Philadelphia due to a successful strategy we devised with our allies around the country to bring similar suits and try to keep the case out of the conservative DC courts. Through a court lottery our fiscally-sponsored project Prometheus Radio in Philadelphia succeeded in becoming the host-plaintiff and the case was consolidated by the judges to the Third Circuit court there.

“The court stay is a critical victory in the ongoing struggle to prevent a massive increase in the concentration of media ownership and therefore unavoidable loss of localism and diversity,” said Gene Kimmelman, Consumers Union’s Senior Director of Public Policy & Advocacy. “It’s temporarily prevented a wave of mergers and sends a strong signal that the FCC can’t be trusted to promote competition and diversity among media outlets.”

Congress Fumbles
While the Courts may or may not provide some relief, it is the Congress that has oversight of the FCC and is responsible for how media policy impacts us all.

There have been a number of initiatives in Congress to roll back or amend aspects of the rules approved by the FCC on June 2nd, but no meaningful ones have yet succeeded in gaining bi-partisan support. It’s telling that the only bill that did go through both houses addressed one of the least significant of the FCC’s 5 rule changes and ended up as a disappointing compromise that simply upped the limit on percentage of national ownership to a level that exempts all the networks from any real restrictions but that is a bit lower than that passed by the Powell FCC itself.

The Senate did pass a bill that would completely negate the rules changes, but the House leadership has refused to bring it to a vote. The White House has indicated it does not want such a bill to come across Bush’s desk, especially in this election year, and that the President would veto it. While Bush’s Republican allies in the House seek to prevent this politically damaging scenario, House Democrats see it as a possible wedge issue and are pushing to get more co-sponsors for House Joint Resolution 72.

For up-to-the minute information on these Congressional initiatives, visit Media Alliance website or www.media-alliance.org or www.mediareform.net

California Localism Town Hall Meeting
While Powell and the Bush-Cheney-Rove machine have been willing to simply override public resistance to media consolidation, just as they have with public opposition to the war in Iraq, they still have the need for the appearance of public consent. Criticism of Powell for not holding significant public hearings leading up to the June 2, 2003 vote, left an opening for FCC Commissioner Adelstein to travel the country holding his own hearings and mobilize unmuffled criticism of the administration’s media policies. Powell is attempting to rectify this with his own stage-managed road show a “Localism Task Force” that is holding “Town Hall Meetings” in six cities across the U.S..

The first of these took place in Charlotte, North Carolina in late October, and it was clear that large media companies are getting very organized to use these hearings to spin their message. Industry supporters packed the room and any voices expressing the public interest were completely drowned out.

The six-city PR road show will be coming to Central California in March for the only west coast hearing. MA & our allies are planning to fill the California hearing with concerned community members, media workers, and peace and justice advocates from the Central Coast and the Bay Area. We look forward to the opportunity to talk about the issues at community meetings, schools, labor halls, and in the press coordinating live broadcasts by community and ethnic media.

Late word from Powell’s office is that the California hearing will be in Monterey, CA on March 17. The date was announced after the San Antonio, Texas hearing January 28, 2004 which was held, not coincidentally, in the hometown of Powell friends Clear Channel and SBC. Despite the location, national and local activists did protest, but Powell declined to comment on protestors concerns.

Chairman Powell says “I created the Localism Task Force to evaluate how broadcasters are serving their local communities.” Help make the California meeting one that Mr. Powell won’t forget and that he is sure to comment on. Help make sure he gets a full picture of how conglomerates are destroying local news and harming our communities.

If you’d like to contact Powell & the FCC before the hearings, you can reach the “Localism Task Force” at 202-418-7777 or by email at localism@fcc.gov

In 2004, we are certainly in for more of an uphill battle against powerfully entrenched interests, but there is tremendous public awareness and powerful momentum to counter greater media consolidation. MA is looking forward to continuing our leading role regionally and nationally for media justice and democracy. We can’t do it without you. “The only way to beat organized money is with organized people.”

Please stay tuned via our bi-weekly email announcements and website at www.media-alliance.org

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