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Comments to the FCC

by Steven Starr Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 3:22 PM

Comments to the Federal Communications Commissioner Ownership Hearing - University of Southern California 4-28-03

Comments to the Federal Communications Commissioner Ownership Hearing -

University of Southern California 4-28-03

My name is Steven Starr, and I thank you for the privilege of speaking here today. As someone who's spent his entire professional life in the media business, it's clear to me the concerns before you today will have a profound impact on the way the world sees us for a long time to come.

When former FCC Commissioner Mark Fowler declared in the 1980's that "the perception of Broadcasters as community trustees should be replaced by a view of broadcasting as marketplace participants", the FCC shifted it's mandate to protect the public, the economics of scale had suddenly trumped democracy, the efficiencies of capital had just trumped freedom of speech.

We hear America speaking with such fervor about freedom these days; Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Expression. But every time Commissioner Powell declares the free market as his religion, and he does so quite frequently, one can only hope that our own press begins to question more closely Mr. Powell's priorities for all the other freedoms we hold dear.

One wonders how many television journalists sleep well these days; the good ones I know are deeply troubled by the parameters of the journalism they are permitted to practice. Our First Amendment demands that journalists serve the public interest directly, not the political or business interests of media owners; and thus far Mr. Powell and the FCC has failed thus far to tell us how a further relaxing of its ownership policies will allow mainstream journalists more freedom to serve the public.

Case in point; where's the ongoing coverage of these FCC hearings on CNN, Fox, or NBC? I'm not talking about 15 seconds on the evening news. There's something wrong, Commissioners, if our own media offers little or no mainstream discourse as you consider laying groundwork that will further prevent the voice of the people to be able to be heard over the voice of the profiteers.

Case in point; the looting of Iraqi museums struck many of us as the single greatest cultural disaster in modern history, but we can't seem to find the story on television, except to see our Secretary of Defense shrug and say "stuff happens". That's 5,000 years of our common cultural history dismissed with a shrug. One can only imagine what seeds are planted around the world when that's the entire explanation we can offer to those watching us.

Our global community is rightly concerned by satcasts of such disturbing superficialities. I want my daughter to grow up in a world filled with deeply considered ideas, not propaganda, in a world where the nature of our content is not determined by a few with privilege, but by the many who enjoy not only the right but the access to express themselves freely.

A man we all admire once suggested we should be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin. Today we come here as citizens, as parents, as members of a civil society, to recognize that the character of our content, as it proliferates all over the world, tells a story about America, a story that the people of the world will either respect or reject. If the American story isn't told with diversity, if our story isn't told from a sense of place, a place that allows for a broad spectrum of thought, that enables ideas to be argued with passion and mutual respect, then our American story isn't worth telling to the rest of the world.

If any of you believe that a further concentration of media ownership will allow for such a diversity of place, of passion and ideas, I would simply refer you to the death of independent television production since your last deregulation, the intense centralization of radio, and the surging dominance of the internet by those already dominating our other communication spheres.

Please remember that the character of our content will be defined entirely by the liberties implicit in our ideas, that our children's future will be insured by the protections under which those ideas are expressed, and that our security in the world will be guaranteed only by a resonant global perception that America is willing to advance the prospects of democracy before capital, of human diversity before market controls, of freedom of expression before shareholder demands.

The future of the American Commons is in your hands. I implore you to consider this carefully.

Thank you.

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