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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. E-mail Ryan

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October 31, 2007

Life for LPFM

Posted by Ryan at 3:22 PM

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee passed the Local Radio Community Act of 2007 on Tuesday. The legislation, sponsored by Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, would help low-power FM (LPFM) grow. The short version is that the FCC would have to change its rules to get rid of third-adjacent channel minimum distance separation between LPFM stations and existing stations. The bill also address licensing issues that have worked against LPFM stations.

Hopefully the support of the Commerce Committee is replicated in a vote of the full Senate.

A copy of the bill can be found here.

Watch the Halloween hearing

Posted by Ryan at 1:03 PM

You can watch today's FCC localism hearing here on the Web if you were not able to make it to Washington, D.C. on five days notice. The localism hearing was tagged onto the end of a regularly scheduled FCC meeting. Fast forward to the 58 minute mark for the localism hearing.

If you did make it. Drop me a line about the happenings.

October 30, 2007

Obama continues to talk net neutrality

Posted by Ryan at 3:26 PM

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is keeping network neutrality alive in the presidential campaign. He was asked today during a Q&A session on MTV about net neutrality. The question, which was fittingly asked through video by somebody who helps build Web sites, was if Obama would make net neutrality a priority during his first year in the White House. The questioner also asked if Obama would appoint FCC commissioners who felt the same.

The answer is yes. I am a strong supporter of network neutrality.

He then goes on to give an understandable explanation of the often wonkish issue. He explains the damage the Internet will sustain if the companies that control networks, such as AT&T and Comcast, are allowed to favor the content of their choosing.

That I think destroys one of the best things about the Internet, which is there is this incredible equality there.

Obama should be commended for making net neutrality an issue in presidential politics. Net neutrality clearly resonates with younger voters, and anybody who uses the Internet regularly. I am sure Obama did not miss the moderator say that the net neutrality question was the most asked question by viewers of the session. Hopefully the candidates from both parties were listening.

October 29, 2007

Halloween hearing panel

Posted by Ryan at 3:39 PM

The Federal Communications Commission has announced the panel for the Halloween localism hearing.

Click here to read the press release. There are some strong panelist on the side of media reform. The hearing will be worth attending if you are in the Washington, D.C. area. Drop me a note about the hearing if you go. I will post some here at Daily Democracy.

There is still no word on the media ownership hearing that was proposed for Friday in Seattle. Highly doubtful it will happen, at least not on Nov. 2.

Lunchtime fun

Posted by Ryan at 11:39 AM

StopBigMedia has a fun little game on its Web site called Whack-a-Murdoch. Not only is it a perfect way to blow off a little steam with a mallet, it shows the obscene number of media outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

October 26, 2007

The FCC and News Corporation

Posted by Ryan at 4:52 PM

Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps is pressuring Chairman Kevin Martin to scrutinize News Corporation's purchase of Dow Jones. In a letter to Martin, Copps points to the incredible influence Rupert Murdoch's company will have on New York City and the nation.

If approved, this transaction would leave News Corp. in control of a Big Four broadcast network and two of the area's most popular television stations and two of its most popular newspapers.

Both aspects of this transaction are unprecedented in the history of the FCC and, indeed, of the United States.

The FCC should consider whether a national cross-ownership ban should be slapped on News Corporation, and any other company that wants to over extend its reach. In addition to the many outlets Copps listed above, Murdoch is about to launch a nationwide financial network on cable.

It is frightening that one man can be allowed that much control in a democracy. America will suffer if the FCC sights out of date precedent and stands aside as Murdoch takes control of Dow Jones, and its prize possession, the Wall Street Journal.

Wildfire reporters

Posted by Ryan at 2:39 PM

NPR had an inspiring story this morning about an affiliate station in San Diego and how it has been reporting on the wildfires. KPBS in San Diego is no Clear Channel in Minot, N.D.

A brief history: Minot has become the poster city for how media consolidation has left many communities helpless during an emergency. In 2002 a train derailed releasing a poisonous cloud that drifted to Minot. The city's fire department could not get through to Minot's radio stations. All six local radio stations were owned by Clear Channel. Nobody was at the stations because the canned broadcasts did not require bodies in the studio. One person died, and nearly a thousand were injured.

The coverage by one local radio station has been the opposite of Minot. The NPR story points out that KPBS is pretty much the only station left doing local news in San Diego. Sounds familiar. When KPBS lost their signal for a day they asked, and were allowed, to transmit through a commercial radio station. A commendable act for the corporate station. Too bad it did not have its own team of journalists to inform listeners of what was happening. KPBS is back on the air and doing amazing things. Reporting you can only get from a station that has a focus on journalism and its community.

It is worth checking out KPBS.org to see all the ways they are helping San Diego's displaced and frightened populace. The staff has produced a map using Google's My Map to show what is happening in the region. The station is also using a social networking site to send updates through text messages.

KPBS is a prime example of why independence is important for radio, and for listeners. It also exemplifies why the Internet is a vital component for radio.

Radio's future

Posted by Ryan at 11:10 AM

In my regular column today I write about radio. The news peg was a Wednesday hearing on the future of radio held by the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee.

The committee, which includes senators from both parties concerned about media consolidation such as Democrats Maria Cantwell and Byron Dorgan and Republicans Trent Lott and Olympia Snowe, heard testimony from independent record label owners, and musicians. They also heard from a broadcaster who supports consolidation.

According to Radio World Newspaper the testimony of the independents had an impact. Commerce Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said the committee needs to examine the diversity of media ownership, and consolidation.

It is not surprising that the committee would delve more into media ownership - it is their job. But it is encouraging that senators from both parties have become very vocal on the topic, especially at a time when the Federal Communications Commission is trying to ram bad public policy into law before year end.

For more about Wednesday's hearing go to the Commerce Committee's Web site. Another good source for information about Internet radio, and media consolidation is the Future of Music Coalition, and the Rock the Net campaign.

October 25, 2007

Halloween Hearing

Posted by Ryan at 4:45 PM

The announcement yesterday evening that the Federal Communications Commission will hold its sixth localism hearing Wednesday is disappointing. Not only because the public was given barely a weeks notice, but also because the hearing will take place after a regularly schedule commission meeting.

The localism hearings give commissioners a chance to hear how broadcasters are serving their communities. I wrote a column from one these hearings in Portland, Maine. What was clear from the extensive public testimony was that the FCC needs to do more to increase the diversity of ownership of radio and television stations, and enforce and create rules that lessen media concentration.

The FCC does the people it is supposed to serve a disservice by giving such little notice, and attaching the hearing to an already scheduled meeting. These hearings are important and demand time and space to be effective.

The Halloween hearing raises questions about a FCC media ownership hearing in Seattle that might happen Nov. 2. The Seattle and Washington, D.C. hearings were announced by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin during a Senate hearing last week. A Seattle media ownership hearing is welcomed, but nothing is official. I am afraid that Martin will firm up the Nov. 2 date next week in an effort to degrade the hearing.

October 24, 2007

Presidential candidates and media consolidation

Posted by Ryan at 7:30 PM

Presidential candidates Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Delaware, and Barack Obama D-Illinois, are both concerned about the push by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin to change media ownership rules. Good for the senators. In a Friday press release Biden told the FCC to not lift the cross-ownership restriction, which bans a company from owning a newspaper, television station, a number of radio stations, and an Internet Service Provider in the same market. Obama sent out a press release Monday saying he is also concerned about media concentration, and urged the FCC to do more to promote diversity of media ownership.

It is encouraging to hear these two candidates speaking out on this issue. I hope the other candidates, including Republicans, can work this into their stumps. The responsibility also falls to the press. Reporters should be asking the candidates about issues such as media concentration, and Network neutrality.

Media concentration and media diversity should be at the forefront of the presidential debate. These two issues are so fundamental to our democracy, yet politicians rarely make it an issue. They might be surprised by the positive response from voters of all political affiliations if they did make it an issue. Media consolidation is not a wedge issue, which dims the flash of the lure for candidates during a primary. What candidates would discover by talking media consolidation is that it cuts across the electorate like few topics. Christian conservative broadcasters are as worried about consolidation as is Common Cause.

An inclusive issue might be too good to believe for most politicians locked in a struggle for the White House. But it is out there, and as important as the war, health care, and fund raising.

Faulty FCC studies

Posted by Ryan at 5:16 PM

Studies used by the Federal Communications Commission to bolster the argument for media consolidation have been called into question by a number of consumer groups. The Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, and Free Press used FCC data to debunk the regulatory agencies own findings. A press release from the consumer groups said, "The new study dismantles claims that removing the ban on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership would increase local news. In reality, cross-ownership results in a net loss in the amount of local news produced across local broadcast markets."

The release of the study was poorly timed for FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. It came out during a Congressional hearing last week that he wants the FCC to vote on media ownership rules by Dec. 18. Evidence contrary to the data Martin might use to jettison cross-ownership rules should give the other FCC commissioners, and Congress pause.

I have printed out the report and will be back with more on this topic.

October 21, 2007

Welcome to Daily Democracy!

Posted by Ryan at 8:32 PM

Welcome to Daily Democracy, an extension of the Democracy Papers, which is an ongoing project that examines the press and democracy. This space will be used to keep the discussion fresh, and vigorous. I will be writing about the media reform movement, the press, and its place in a democracy. I will also direct readers to related stories, materials, and sources.

Enough with the introductions. There is too much happening to waste time with the pleasantries. The big news on media reform came out of Washington, D.C. last week. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin said he wants the commission to vote on media ownership rules by Dec. 18. Martin is also calling for public hearings on the matter in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 31, and here in Seattle on Nov. 2.

Martin's timing is curious. He seemed content to move the FCC at a pedestrian pace on media ownership until now. Since Martin's predecessor, Michael Powell, the FCC has had a soft spot for the big media companies. Tribune, one of those big media companies, has for some reason been allowed to operate newspapers, and television stations in a number of cities with temporary waivers. Tribune is going through a sale to Chicago developer Sam Zell. Zell and Tribune want to close the deal by year end. Zell wants to keep Tribunes televisions stations. Tribune wants to be able to sell Zell its newspapers and stations in one nice neat package. A Dec. 18 vote would be convenient for Zell and Tribune.

The New York Times had a good story about Martin's plans. It gives some good history about an earlier effort to weaken cross-ownership rules. There are also some good quotes from FCC commissioner Michael Copps, and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

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