Change At FCC And Congress: Good News For Media Reform

The signature slogan for the 2008 campaign season was a single word that can spark a thousand interpretations: CHANGE! [It narrowly beat out “Maverick” and “You Betcha”] And change there will be.

This week, something happened in the House of Representatives that is almost unheard of. The sacred principle of seniority was set aside when Henry Waxman of California booted John Dingell of Michigan from the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Dingell had been chairing the committee since the flood of Noah, and through most of his tenure he was a friend to the industries over which he had jurisdiction. Waxman, on the hand, is known for his work on the Government Oversight Committee as a bulldog who kept a close watch on the people’s interests. He held numerous hearings to investigate corporate abuse, greed, and corruption.

Since the FCC falls within the Commerce Committee’s jurisdiction, there is good reason to assume that Waxman will put them on a short leash. He is an advocate of Network Neutrality and strict enforcement of anti-trust law. He has been deeply involved with environmental and healthcare issues for many years and will likely want to focus on those matters. Consequently, he may leave a lot of the media-related heavy lifting to Ed Markey, chair of the Telecom subcommittee. Markey is an ally who’s views and priorities are in sync with Waxman.

Combine these adjustments in the House with news that the Senate Commerce Committee is undergoing its own upheaval and there is real hope for reform. Jay Rockefeller will be taking the gavel from Daniel Inouye, another old-time industry bull. Rockefeller is far more likely to support initiatives for far-sighted projects like universal broadband (making the Internet more like a utility that is available to everyone). He will get help from Sen. Byron Dorgan, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce, who has sponsored legislation to reduce the number of television stations and newspapers that a corporation can own.

In addition to these leaders in Congress, the makeup of the FCC is going to change as well. Barack Obama has gotten off to good start by naming a couple of knowledgeable and forward-looking academics to lead his Transition Team: Susan Crawford and Kevin Werbach. He has also tapped Julius Genachowski and Blair Levin, both top aides to former FCC chairman Reed Hundt, as advisors. One of them may turn out to be the new FCC chair. And given Obama’s own statements on the media, there is more potential for positive developments in the next eight months than there has been in the past eight years. Here is an excerpt from the Technology statement on his website:

“As president, Obama will encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation’s spectrum.”

There is much to be done to recover from the past few years of regressive policy and obedience to corporate domination. But this is as promising a beginning as one can expect. It is now up to the new administration to follow through, and an active citizenry to be vigilant and vocal.

Stop Big Media – Support Dorgan/Lott

The FCC’s proposed new rules aimed at advancing the interests of Big Media conglomerates, and permitting them to get even bigger and more powerful, now face a legislative hurdle courtesy of Senators Byron Dorgan and Trent Lott. The bill will force the FCC to move forward with localism and diversity initiatives and to give the public at least 90 days to review the new rules that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wants to adopt.

The legislation is being introduced to keep Martin from rushing through regulations favorable to his corporate benefactors. Dorgan and Lott deserve credit for serving the interests of the public. A new poll illustrates precisely where the public stands on the matter of media consolidation.

“The survey found 57 percent of respondents favored laws against a company owning a paper and TV station in the same market. That level of support was roughly the same among the political liberals, moderates and conservatives surveyed […] The survey also showed 70 percent of respondents described media consolidation as a problem.”

This fight is a replay of one that the people thought they had won in 2003, when 3 million citizens forced the Congress to rollback regs rammed through by then FCC Chair Michael Powell. They were backed up by the courts who ordered the regs to be withdrawn and revised. Now we have to assert our will again as the same powerful interests attempt to write their own ticket.

And once again is leading the fight for media reform, independence and diversity. Visit their site to add your voice to those already speaking out against this power grab by Martin and the Corporate Media. Your message will be forwarded to the FCC and your representatives in Congress. And you can send your friends and family links to this vital information so that they can do the same.

The contact page is at Stop Big Media.

Don’t put it off. Martin and his masters are trying to push there agenda through before Christmas.

FCC Still Shilling For Big Media

From the New York Times:

“The head of the Federal Communications Commission has circulated an ambitious plan to relax the decades-old media ownership rules, including repealing a rule that forbids a company to own both a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same city.”

“Kevin J. Martin, chairman of the commission, wants to repeal the rule in the next two months – a plan that, if successful, would be a big victory for some executives of media conglomerates.”

The New York Times, a big media conglomerate, is severely understating the impact of these proposed rules. By relaxing ownership caps, the FCC will be exacerbating a problem that is already destroying free and diverse media in this country. In the past 25 years, the number of companies that controlled the majority of media output plunged from 50 to 5. The FCC thinks that that is a positive trend and is doing its best to sustain and advance it.

This is not the first time the FCC has taken such steps. The previous chairman, Michael Powell, tried to ram through similar rules but was beat back by the public and reversed by the courts. Martin is pretending to rectify Powell’s errors by staging events ostensibly to collect public opinion. However, he is now brazenly ignoring that opinion.

A year ago the FCC held hearings in Los Angeles that demonstrated a passionate opposition to further consolidation. The audience was probably 90+ percent opposed to relaxing ownership caps. That story was repeated in seven more cities where the FCC brought its show. Now Martin is justifying his proposed new rules by claiming that they were drafted with input from the public. The only problem is that nowhere in his proposal are the public’s views represented. It’s as if they never existed.

Tell the FCC: Stop Big Media
The FCC’s genuflection to Big Media was blocked last time because Americans in unprecedented numbers demanded fairness and independence. We must do so again. Sen. Byron L. Dorgan has long been a leader in this fight. Let him know that you appreciate his courage in taking on the media, an institution that could do him much harm. Also, visit FreePress and its affiliate Stop Big Media. Their site is stocked with information and tools to help you be an effective advocate for media reform.

This is a serious matter and demands a commitment to fight. Chairman Martin is determined to reward his Big Media patrons. No matter what other issue you are involved with, it is this issue that shapes the outcome. You cannot end the war in Iraq, or pass universal health care, or advance environmental protections, or [fill in the blank] without access to media that is responsible and accountable to citizens. It’s time to get to work…again.