THE BAD NEWS: Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to remove the longstanding 32-year “newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership” ban that prohibits a local newspaper from owning a broadcast station in the same market.
That’s not all. In a series of late night revisions Chairman Martin, fattened his holiday gift to Big Media by granting permanent waivers to companies across the country who have been in breach of the cross-ownership ban for years. Already ignoring the millions who have spoken up against media consolidation, this last-minute immunity for Big Media is a slap in the face to the American people.
Today’s vote was a confirmation that the FCC has turned its back on its own mission and mandate to foster localism, diversity, and competition. The Commission, which is supposed to be dedicated to protecting the public interest on the public’s airwaves, has shown today that it is held hostage by Big Media’s campaign contributions and high-powered lobbyists. Their corrupt process and biased research ensured that they reached a preordained conclusion today to gut the few remaining protections for local media.
The FCC's two Democrats, Commissioners Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein, warned of "loopholes" that would lead to increased media consolidation and barriers to entry for women and minorities. Their biting comments on C-SPAN TV carried far more anger than reading them below.
"We claim to be giving the news industry a shot in the arm, but the real effect is going to be reducing total news-gathering. This is not the way to do rational, fact-based, public-interest-minded policy-making. In the final analysis, the real winners today are businesses that are in many cases quite healthy. The profit margins for the newspaper industry last year averaged around 17.8%, the figure is even higher for broadcast stations. The real losers are going to be all of us who depend on the local news media to learn what is happening in our communities and to keep an eye on local government” Mr. Copps said in a lengthy, harshly worded statement (pdf).
Last week before a Senate Hearing on the issue, Mr.Copps, an opponent of loosening ownership rules said, “We are not the Federal Newspaper Commission.”
Today Mr. Adelstein added: "We've blown so many red lights it would make Mario Andretti blush. Now it's up to Congress and the courts to address the pileup that has resulted."
Addressing the two dissenting commissioners’ criticisms, Mr. Martin said, " While I have and continue to seek consensus, I have come to the conclusion it will never be possible to reach consensus on the media ownership issue."
This fight is far from over, based on the reaction of public interest groups, the 1,100 people who stood outside in Seattle on a cold Friday night awaiting a chance to address the Commission's Fact Finding Board in mid-November. Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) said of the disrespect for the public that we were all treated like “chumps”.
“The situation isn’t going to repair itself. Big media is not going to repair it. This Commission is not going to repair it,” said Copps. “But the people, their elected representatives, and attentive courts can repair it. Last time the Commission went down this road, the majority heard and felt the outrage of millions of citizens and Congress and then the court. Today’s decision is just as dismissive of good process as that earlier one, just as unconcerned with what the people have said, just as heedless of the advice of our oversight committees and many other Members of Congress, and just as stubborn—perhaps even more stubborn—because this time it knows, or should know, what’s coming. Last time a lot of insiders were surprised by the country’s reaction. This time they should be forewarned.”
Last week, while testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee, Martin was asked by a number of senators to postpone today's vote. Committee member Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) turned up the heat on Martin yesterday with a letter signed by 25 senators – including the committee's vice chairman, Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), -- demanding Martin postpone the vote or face the swift drafting of a bill designed to overturn it.
To add to today's pressure on FCC members, last week during the Senate Hearings, Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) noted that there are pending nominations for two sitting FCC commissioners: Democrat Jonathan Adelstein and Republican Deborah Tate.
Though Senator Lott had high praise for Adelstein, he said he hoped Tate will help keep the other Republican commissioners in line on this week’s vote. It was a subtle, but stark reminder that only a single senator can block a commissioner’s renomination to the FCC. µ