The FCC’s Ownership Quandry

The Federal Communications Commission is getting it from both sides.

A consortium of broadcasters and publishers wrote to Chairman Kevin Martin, to complain that they still don’t have as much of a stranglehold on the public’s attention as they would like. The letter was signed by all of the broadcast networks as well as radio giant Clear Channel, newspaper conglomerates Gannett and Tribune, and others. Here is a taste of their finely aged whine:

“…television and radio broadcasters are experiencing unprecedented challenges in maintaining their audience shares and the advertising revenues essential to the survival of non-subscription media.”

This complaint is based on the emergence of a vast array of new outlets available to today’s news and entertainment consumer. What they conveniently fail to mention is that they also own most of the new outlets that they accuse of taking their business away. They go on to implore the Commission to amend ownership rules…

“…to ensure that local television and radio broadcasters, as well as daily newspapers, are not unfairly hampered in their ability to serve the public.”

That request would be easier to take seriously if they were presently serving the public. That opinion is shared by a group of senators that sent a letter to Chairman Martin on the same day. Senator Byron Dorgan wrote the letter that was signed by eight other members of the Commerce committee.

“The FCC must first establish that there are sufficient mechanisms in place to ensure that broadcasters are serving their local communities before considering any changes to the ownership rules.”

So what will the FCC do? Will they bend to the will of their corporate overlords? Or will they accept the fact that, come January, the Democrats will be running Congress and chairing the committees that oversee the agency? My guess is they punt. There is an unfinished report on localism that they can use as an excuse to delay making a decision. When we see the conclusions in that report, we’ll know which way they intend to vote on new ownership rules.

For anybody handicapping the outcome, I wouldn’t bet on the FCC weighing in against the business crowd. So that means that we, the people, will have to stay vigilant and make sure they remember for whom they work.