UCC media justice advocates condemn FCC decision to relax ownership rules

Posted on December 18, 2007 - 10:42pm.

UCC media justice advocates condemn FCC decision to relax ownership rules

Written by staff and wire reports
December 18, 2007

The UCC's Office of Communication, Inc. – the UCC's media justice agency -- is decrying a Dec. 18 decision by the Federal Communications Commission to relax its 32-year-old cross-media ownership rule, allowing companies in the largest markets nationally to own both print and broadcast media outlets.

"This decision supports powerful corporate interests at the expense of the average person's right to access inclusive, locally-based, grassroots media. It concentrates media into the hands of the elite few to the detriment of the many -- especially diverse audiences," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, the UCC's director of communications. "It flies in the face of everything the UCC and our media justice partners have been advocating for decades."

The Commission voted 3-2 along party lines with the two other Republican commissioners backing FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to approve the controversial rule change. The decision was made at the agency's monthly public meeting.

The decision came after the FCC held few public hearings on the issue and with little advance notice to the public, UCC advocates insist.

In October, the UCC's Office of Communication, Inc. (OC Inc.) filed comments with the FCC, arguing that studies produced by the FCC did not address important issues, such as the diversity of media ownership. And in late October, when the FCC gave less than a week's confirmation of time, date and location for a hearing on the matter in Washington, D.C., Cheryl Leanza, OC Inc's managing editor, publicly insisted that the FCC's discernment process was "flawed."

"Not only does it seem that Chairman Kevin J. Martin is going to allow the media to consolidate further, but he is doing it as part of a flawed process," Leanza said in an Oct. 31 release. "The FCC was supposed to create a solid factual record, but instead the facts and data is flawed and has come at the last minute with little opportunity for analysis."

Similarly this year, the FCC did not announce the locations of hearings held earlier in Chicago; Portland, Maine; Tampa, Fla.; and Harrisburg, Pa., until about two weeks before each meeting.

Despite intense pressure from lawmakers and public interest groups to delay a vote until 2008, Martin has remained defiant in the face of the pressure, determined to see through his proposal to reform the rule.

The rule change will allow a company in the 20 largest markets to own both a newspaper and a radio or television station.

Outside of the top 20 markets, firms can apply for a waiver from the rule, although it will be up to them to prove that this waiver would be in the public interest.

The current regulations don't allow such cross-ownership, although a number of companies have waivers from this ban.

The two Democratic members of the FCC - Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein - have been strongly opposed to the rule change.

"The FCC has never attempted such a brazen act of defiance against Congress," said Jonathan Adelstein, an FCC Commissioner who voted against the change. "Like the Titanic, we are steaming at full speed despite repeated warnings of danger ahead. We should have slowed down rather than put everything at risk."

"Today's story is a majority decision unconnected to good policy and not even incidentally concerned with encouraging media to make our democracy stronger," said Commissioner Michael Copps, who also voted unsuccessfully to stop the change. "We are not concerned with gathering valid data, conducting good research, or following the facts where they lead us."

The Senate Commerce Committee, with support from senators of both parties, urged Martin to delay his plan until there was an opportunity for further debate.

And on Monday, a quarter of the Senate sent a letter to Martin declaring their intention to pass a law blocking the rule change.

It is widely expected that the FCC's relaxation of the cross-media ownership rule will be challenged in court.

( categories: FCC Media Ownership )