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Daily Democracy

Ryan Blethen discusses the press, media and democracy. Daily Democracy is part of the Democracy Papers, a series of articles, essays and editorial opinion examining threats to our freedoms of speech and the press.

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December 17, 2007 4:42 PM

Spotlight on the FCC

Posted by Ryan Blethen

The Federal Communications Commission is getting a lot of attention today because of tomorrow's vote. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is getting blasted with more requests to hold off on the vote. The most interesting letter from 26 senators, including Maria Cantwell, Barack Obama, and Joseph Biden. The letter, which can be found here, tells Martin to pull back or the Senate will pass a law nullifying his proposal if it passes.

Martin also received a letter from the National Hispanic Media Coalition, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Black Leadership Forum and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. I could not find a copy of the letter online and did not want to cut and paste it into this post for the sake of length. Needless to say the above mentioned groups are against tomorrow's vote and media consolidation.

One of today's more fascinating FCC stories was in Saturday's Denver Post. The paper's TV critic Joanne Ostrow has a nice piece with some good insight:

"Remember when it was not considered naïve to suggest that broadcast licenses were not licenses to print money, but permission to operate in what the original Communications Act called 'the public interest, convenience and necessity'?"

What makes Ostrow's pointed comments about the FCC interesting is the position taken by her publisher Dean Singleton. Singleton owns MediaNews, a giant newspaper chain, and has long been a cross-ownership proponent. Singleton probably falls into the same camp as his buddies at the Newspaper Association of America, which was upset that Martin's plan did not go far enough.

Ostrow does miss the mark when she wonders where the public outcry was on this go-around on cross-ownership compared to 2003 when nearly 3 million people contacted the FCC.

"The last time the FCC tried to push through this sort of deregulation in 2003, 3 million Americans weighed in opposing any change. This time, there doesn't seem to be much public outcry."

There has been a massive public outcry. The six media ownership hearings the FCC held across the country the past year were packed. Nearly all the testimony was in favor of strong cross-ownership laws. According to Free Press more than 100,000 people have contacted the FCC and Congress through the campaign. Martin's tight schedule on media ownership has probably been an effective deterrent to more public comment.

The public reaction appears muted because of the sorry coverage the media ownership issues get in the press. Very few of the nation's big newspapers covered all six of the media ownership hearings. There has also been scant coverage of related issues such as the low number of women and minorities that own media outlets, or how the country music scene has suffered because of consolidation. Had these topics and more been on the pages of America's newspapers the public's true concern about media consolidation would have been better known. Coverage at this point does little good to inform the public, Congress or the FCC.

The New York Times had an edit opposing changes to the cross-ownership rule. I rolled my eyes at the first few grafs, which talk about how the media landscape has changed since the cross-ownership ban was adopted in the 1970s. That is how most editorials supporting a lifting of the ban begin. But the Times shifts gears and comes out against Martin's plan. Fine with me. Do not really care how the Times got there, just that they did.

My favorite reading today came from Harold Feld at Wetmachine. I can't help mentioning Feld's Wetmachine posts. I find his insights useful, and his analysis spot on. His latest posts looks at Martin's consistent approach to his time at the FCC. Well worth a read.

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