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FCC hearing on localism

(This post has been edited to correct the link to the pdf advertising the rally. I apologize if you couldn’t download it earlier).

A trick with no treat. The [tag]FCC[/tag] is holding a public hearing on [tag]localism[/tag] on Wednesday, October 31st. The notice was issued on October 24th, not very much notice for citizens who want to make arrangements to attend the hearing. This is sleazy, shady, and reprehensible.

Why am I so agitated?

In 2004, under then-Chairman Michael Powell, the FCC voted on and passed rules allowing mass deregulation of our mass media, a move that could have struck a crushing blow to our democracy. The rules were immediately challenged. The New York Times recapped that challenge in an article just last week (October 17th):

Three years ago, the commission lost a major court challenge to its last effort, led by Michael K. Powell, its chairman at the time, to relax the media ownership rules. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, concluded that the commission had failed to adequately justify the new rules. Mr. Martin’s proposal would presumably include new evidence aimed at fending off similar legal challenges.

Mr. Powell’s effort, which had been supported by lobbyists for broadcasters, newspapers and major media conglomerates, provoked a wave of criticism from a broad coalition of opponents. Among them were the National Organization for Women, the National Rifle Association, the Parents Television Council and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The agency was flooded with nearly three million comments against changing the rules, the most it has ever received in a rule-making process.

[read the whole story]

Current Chairman Kevin Martin has been keeping the faith, attempting to fast-track new deregulation rules. A series of hearings have taken place around the country to allow citizens to voice their opinions about the current state of media in their communities and the impact they foresee from these potential new rules. These hearings have resulted in thousands of citizens turning out to express their opinions about the lack of local and minority voices on the airwaves, the homogenity of music and cultural programming on the airwaves, and the dearth of timely, pertinent information in the event of natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

The New York Times article about Martin’s fast-tracking of this latest round of rule-changing includes Senator Byron Dorgan’s recent statement on the issue:

“This is a big deal because we have way too much concentration of media ownership in the United States,” Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, said at a hearing on Wednesday called to examine the digital transition of the television industry.

“If the chairman intends to do something by the end of the year,” Mr. Dorgan added, his voice rising, “then there will be a firestorm of protest and I’m going to be carrying the wood.”

Senator Dorgan isn’t the only legislator angry about what’s happening. New York Representative Maurice Hinchey’s website has a press release detailing a letter co-signed by 42 House members and sent to the FCC last night.

In their letter to Martin, the House members argued that the ten studies the FCC commissioned this year to examine various issues associated with media consolidation were seriously flawed. Following up on a letter sent to Martin in September by many of the same House Members, the letter sent today outlines various concerns over the 10 studies, 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.”

The House members also criticized Martin for moving forward with plans for major rules changes before the FCC completes its sixth and final promised public hearing on the current state of media ownership rules and also before the agency takes time to review the comments submitted during those forums. The five previous hearings have been widely attended with people staying late into the evening to voice their concerns over media ownership rules.

“Chairman Martin’s proposal would only serve to further shrink an already limited diversity of opinion found among American news outlets,” Hinchey said, “His plan is the exact opposite of what is needed in this country. The FCC ought to be looking for ways to expand the variety of viewpoints and diversity of ownership rather than limiting and further consolidating them.”

You can read the letter in it’s entirety at the bottom of the press release.

Seattle-based [tag]Reclaim the Media[/tag] has a clear and concise page on this issue.

The Federal rules limiting concentration of media outlets are an integral part of our first amendment and fourth amendment freedoms, guaranteeing our rights to free speech, to hear others’ free speech, and to have a free and independent press, capable of holding powerful institutions accountable to the public interest. In recent years, these rules have been under attack by corporations like Clear Channel, Tribune, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., for whom bigger is always better. They get to use the public airwaves for free, but they don’t want to be held accountable to local communities or public service values.

The FCC announced Seattle will be the last city in this round of public hearings. Check the left-hand column of the Reclaim the Media site to see the actions they’re taking to make sure that members of the public who want to speak up are prepared and comfortable with the process. Seattle knows they will be the site of the last hearing, but they haven’t yet been given a firm date, which makes preparation difficult. Not everyone can get out of work or find childcare or arrange transportation on short notice, which limits the range of voices that can be heard at the hearings.

So what can you do? Read the information at [tag]Reclaim the Media[/tag]. Read the proposed rule changes at the FCC website. This is a public hearing. Show up. Listen. Be seen. Attend the rally. (pdf link) Even better, show up and speak out about media consolidation.

Official FCC Localism Hearing
Oct. 31, 2007, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Room TW-C305 following open commission meeting
FCC, 445 12th Street SW, Washington, D.C. 20554

More information about the DC hearing is at Stop Big Media, including a pdf with tips on testifying before the commissioners.