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Activist Backgrounder to Tuesday's FCC event

by Martha Wallner (edited together by LA-IMC) Friday, Feb. 14, 2003 at 7:49 PM

Taken from answers to a several questions asked by IA-IMC to this San Francisco Media Activist. A backgrounder to the event and what activist are doing and can do.

What happened is that industry (Fox, NBC not sure who else) took the FCC to court claiming that FCC's ownership rules are unnecessary and do not serve the public interest. In a nutshell they say, with new technology, and the explosion of media outlets, there is plenty of diversity in our media diets and there is plenty of competition.

Opponents argue that diversity of outlets is not diversity of content - there are less

and less actual "sources" of news & public affairs and less actual gatekeepers, much less local coverage, shrinking of news departments etc.

The courts said to the FCC, ‘give me an argument as to why we should up hold

these rules’, in other words, ‘prove that these limits on ownerships serve the

public interest.’

Michael Powell of the FCC said, ‘gee, I don't think we really do need these rules anymore, but we'll study the situation and get back to you’. Over the last year and a half they've been half heartedly studying the situation and he has been making noises all along that he wants to strike the rules down.

Meanwhile, in Congress, the commerce committees have been hearing lots of complaints about Clear Channel - the perfect case study of what happened

with consolidation in the radio industry due to abolition of limits on station ownership back in 1996. Some Senators and Congress people have been

telling FCC to not act so quickly to strike down rules.

The FCC is so far holding only one official hearing and that is in Richmond, VA on Feb. 27th. Folks at Media Tank and Prometheus Radio in Philly are trying to organize some protest around that hearing. In addition to this there was a flurry of activity in Nov and Dec.urging folks to file comments on line with the FCC expressing how they felt about media concentration and the abolition of the last ownership rules. The url sites below all set up to help people file comments. The FCC rec'd over 13,000 filings from the public, which is VERY unusual - normally they only hear from industry and a few filings from

dc-beltway public interest groups.

The NYC hearing in January, the upcoming LA hearing and the ones planned for

Seattle and Durham in March are being organized by concerned academics and

policy folks...they want the public to hear more about this, but besides

organizing the forums they aren't doing any further activist organizing around this.

The point of public pressure right now is getting people to come to the hearings, write about the hearings, speak about it on the radio etc. It emboldens Commissioner Copp who has been critical of Powerl and buys a time to organize more. Sen. Barbara Boxer is on Commerce Committee that oversees this so letting her know that you are concerned about consolidation and Powell's plans could help, but there is no organized effort towards Congress right now. Right now we're trying to build awareness, in the shadows of war!

In fact, due to pressure from Commissioner Copps and others, the original

filing deadline, Jan. 2 ( i think) was pushed back to Feb. 2. Even with

this deadline, at Prometheus' website, they are still suggesting that people

file comments (which they can do at the Prometheus website - it's set up for

that) because perhaps they'll get through, especially since they've added

the Feb. 27th hearings and these other unofficial hearings are happening

past the deadline and they are taking in more comments at them.

Commissioner Copps (who says that the FCC needs to check in with the public more) and to support his position on the Commission various organizations (like Columbia Law School and now the Center at USC) have come forward to host public unofficial hearings. Powell says he is not going to come to LA but other commissioners have said

they are coming.


For clear chart on the ownership rules in question go to:

Basically, the rules limit things like how much audience a company is

allowed to reach, how many other kinds of media outlets they can own, how

much of the programming they can own when they also own the pipeline etc.

Also in case you want to read a good recent article about destruction of

local SF Hip Hop channel by Clear Channel:

Folks should definitely

get on Media Tank's listserv for ongoing updates.

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