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Confronting the FCC Monolith

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Chairman Kevin J. Martin of the Federal Communications Commission or as we know it, the FCC, has put forth a plan in the past year to make big media even bigger or if you’re a Republican, he’s put forth a plan to make “liberal” media more “liberal.”

Martin’s plan proposes that radio or television broadcasters be allowed to own a daily newspaper in the same community. It proposes that a single company be allowed to own two television stations in the same market, except in certain circumstances---certain circumstances that the FCC will keep as indefinite as possible. It proposes that radio or television broadcasters be allowed to own more than one television station in a single market. The plan sets America up for more Rupert Murdochs and more people like the man who stands to benefit the most from this deal, Sam Zell, as he owns both television stations and newspapers in five markets and has asked the FCC to temporarily waive cross-ownership restrictions until the issue is solved, which would allow him to make the deal he so desperately desires to make to right now.

His push to allow corporations or media conglomerates to exact more control and power over what are supposed to be our airwaves has not gone unnoticed or ignored. Yet, what Americans should know and understand is that just like any situation whether it be ending the Iraq war, restoring our civil liberties, or impeaching Cheney then Bush, the future of media depends on you. It depends on Americans in their local communities to speak out and fight this media power grab.

Thankfully, our leaders have been fighting for Americans.

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On October 25, 2007, Maurice Hinchey and 41 others listed below sent this letter:

Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), George Miller (D-CA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), David Price (D-NC), Tom Allen (D-ME), Betty Sutton (D-OH), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Mike Honda (D-CA), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Bob Filner (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Ed Pastor (D-AZ), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Jim Moran (D-VA), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Al Green (D-TX), Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), Susan Davis (D-CA), David Obey (D-WI), Diane Watson (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), John Olver (D-MA), David Wu (D-OR), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Jay Inslee (D-WA), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jim Cooper (D-TN), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), José Serrano (D-NY), Darlene Hooley (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Mark Udall (D-CO). (*Those in bold also are cosponsors of the Cheney impeachment resolution.)

Dear Chairman Martin:

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We write to express our grave shock and dismay over reports that you are circulating draft media ownership rules among your colleagues at the Federal Communications Commission. We understand that you intend to try to finalize these rules by the end of this calendar year. We believe that such actions are reminiscent of the bad behavior that resulted in an intervention by the Third Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals in your agency's efforts on media ownership three years ago. Therefore, we hope that you will immediately take steps to resolve significant shortcomings in your plan regarding accountability, transparency, and scientific integrity.

Your effort to advance these rules is taking place before the FCC holds its promised sixth and final public hearing on the state of our current media ownership rules. Furthermore, the most recent hearing, in Chicago, IL, only took place on September 20, 2007. It is our understanding that each of the hearings held by the agency have been very heavily attended, with people staying into the late evening in order to make their opinions known. Therefore, we have great difficulty understanding the propriety of moving forward on new media ownership rules before the commission has held its final event. In addition, we cannot comprehend how your staff could possibly have fully analyzed the public comments submitted in Chicago before you began to circulate these new rules.

In addition, we are very troubled by the agency's handling of ten reports on media ownership that it had drafted to help inform its decisions on these media ownership policies. There are a significant number of problems with these reports, including: the FCC's failure to reveal how it recruited individuals to conduct these studies; the agency's subsequent hiring of one of the authors to be its new chief economist (raising troubling questions regarding conflicts of interest); confusion over how the FCC decided to focus the research on its ten chosen topics; and serious mismanagement of the peer review process that is normally used to guarantee the scientific validity of the generated work. Adding insult to injury, the FCC's public comment period on the media ownership reports remains open, making yet another instance where the agency is moving forward without sufficiently consulting the public.

Finally, we are highly alarmed by news that you plan to hold a commission vote on these proposed changes within the next two months. Such action would make public comment on the new rules inadequate. After all of the controversy that this proceeding has generated over the past four years, we believe that another full round of public commentary is essential before a final vote.

At its heart, the debate over the future of media ownership in America is a debate over the future of our democracy. Therefore, we hope you will agree that the Federal Communications Commission must do everything it can to be able to honestly say that it is ending this proceeding after having considered every factor on behalf of the public whose airwaves it purports to represent.
Since that letter, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has arranged to hold a hearing on December 6th. Americans can expect the House to move on a bill after that hearing just days before Martin’s planned date to grant media conglomerates more power. (Martin plans to hold a vote that right now would come out to 3-2 on December 18th.)

The Senate whether it’s putting on a dog and pony show or not is touting a Media Ownership Act that has been sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan which they plan to pass to slow down this consolidation move by Martin and the FCC. Sen. Russ Feingold, in an excerpt from a letter to FCC Chairman Martin sent on November 19th, 2007, described the situation as this:

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I am particularly concerned that the Commission has not sufficiently evaluated the impact of media consolidation on local programming, and may even be selectively collecting and releasing information to support its pre-conceived agenda. It is very troubling that just one year ago, the Commission admitted to deciding not to release two reports that raised questions about potential negative impacts from further media consolidation. The draft Local TV News Report concluded that increased local ownership of television stations is correlated with increases in the amount of "on-location" news and the total amount of news in broadcasts. According to the Inspector General's investigation into this matter, the then-Media Bureau Chief decided not to release the other report, the 2003 Radio Report, because he:

"[was] not inclined to release this one unless the story can be told in a much more positive way. This is not the time to be stirring the "radio consolidation" pot... [Given that the reports in the series had been issued at uneven intervals in the past] It would hardly seem odd if we did not release one this year... particularly given that we just did a big radio order as part of the biennial. .. All in all this is a really bad time to release something like this. Ifwe can change the focus and make it more positive... then perhaps we can do something like this again, but this will take more than just regurgitating last year's report with new numbers."

The then-Media Bureau Chiefs express desire to only release "positive" information and to "change the focus" to "make it more positive" throw the objectivity of FCC media ownership reports and proposals into doubt.

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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for

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