The FCC Weapons of Mass Comminication Tour 2006

The people do not want bigger media monopolies stuffing homogenized content from corporate headquarters down the throats of local consumers.

In the first of six public meetings on new rules for media ownership, members of the Federal Communications Commission brought their dog and pony show to Los Angeles. All five commissioners were present before a standing room only crowd of over 500.

The opening statements foreshadowed the predictably fixed predispositions of the commissioners.

The Dogs:
Chairman Kevin Martin and Commissioner Robert McDowell gave lip service to the importance of public input, but their remarks were typical Washington pablum that offered no substance. Commissioner Deborah Tate provided even less, but she had the excuse of having a throat ailment and was unable to speak.

The Ponies:
Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathon Adelstein, on the other hand, delivered detailed and passionate speeches that stirred the audience. Representative of their views were remarks from Adelstein that called for a media that would pursue the public interest, not the interest of those who seek profit from public airwaves. He discussed how program creators used to worry about the story content, and characters, but that now they worry about getting Coca-Cola in the scene. And he lamented the fact that, on many stations, real investigative reporting had been replaced by video news releases.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters was there to take on the Tribune Company and it’s request for a permanent waiver that would allow it to own both the Los Angeles Times and KTLA-TV. That arrangement is in violation of FCC rules, for which they currently have a temporary waiver. After itemizing Tribune’s failures to operate in the public interest, she insisted that the permanent waiver be denied by stating flatly that, “They don’t deserve it.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson pointed out that too few companies owned too much media at the expense of the people. Marshall Herskovitz, president of the Producers Guild, observed that the media is a huge industry and that they would make money even if they were broken up into 100,000 pieces. Mike Mills of R.E.M. brought the perspective of musicians that are held hostage to the radio conglomerates that dictate playlists and eliminate local programming. And Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication, confronted Chairman Martin with the hypocrisy of the FCC’s policy on publishing research. Read his statement here.

The Show:
After commentaries by the commissioners and the panelists, the public was invited to speak. Of the approximately 30 citizens that rose to address the panel, all but one advocated an end to the ever more permissive policy of consolidated ownership. Some of their stories were broadly stated views of the industry and its impact on independent business and localism. Some were deeply personal stories of how concentrated ownership damaged or ended careers.

The sole dissenter from these views was a representative of the conservative astroturfers, FreedomWorks. The firm is headed by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey and lobbies for the kind of deregulation of media companies that would allow them to own as many properties as they want in any market. Their representative was roundly booed, but defiantly delivered his pro-monopoly message anyway.

If the commissioners were listening to the citizens at this meeting, they surely received an unmistakable and unified message. The people do not want more media consolidation. They do not want bigger media monopolies stuffing homogenized content from corporate headquarters down the throats of local consumers. They want the commission to restore opportunities for small, independent artists, producers, and businesses. This may have been just the first of the series of meetings to be held, but if the others follow suit, then we must expect and demand progressive reform from the commission.

It’s not too late to have your say. The FCC is accepting public comments until December 21, 2006. The last time these rules were revised, the FCC’s attempt to rush through its business friendly regs was derailed by over 3 million citizens voicing their disapproval. We have that power and we have to use it again. Visit Stop Big Media and use their forms to submit your comments. No, really…Do It! The effect is real and it’s a long ways to 3 million. Every comment counts.