The concentration of media ownership by a few large corporations came under attack Tuesday as the
Federal Communications Commission opened a series of hearings on the issue.
"Without diversity in ownership and participation, our democracy is in danger," Rep. Maxine Waters said at the initial hearing held at the University of Southern California. - ap
The FCC is reconsidering a number of broadcast ownership rules, including whether a single company should be able to own both a newspaper and television station in the same market.
The last time the agency revisited the ownership rules was in 2003, when it voted 3-2 to raise the national audience cap for television station owners, lessen restrictions on how many radio and television stations a company may own in the same market and allow for cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations in some instances.
The decision sparked a popular revolt, congressional action and a federal appeals court decision that resulted in most of the rules being sent back to the agency for reconsideration.
The five FCC commissioners found themselves on center stage as participants, ranging from Mike Mills, bassist for the rock band R.E.M., to "Rockford Files" producer Stephen Cannell, criticized media mergers they said were drowning out independent voices.
Producers described difficulties getting shows on television networks unless they relented to demands to change actors or storylines. They urged the FCC to require 25 percent of primetime programming come from independent producers.
"Casting decisions are now made by the networks," said actress Anne-Marie Johnson, who has appeared on popular TV shows like "Melrose Place" and "JAG."
"A requirement for independent voices in production is critical to the completion of a goal of diversity in America," Johnson said during an event that at times sounded like a raucous political rally against media consolidation.
Speaking during a public hearing Tuesday on media consolidation, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein drew frequent cheers by delivering a lengthy critique of media consolidation.
..."Since the FCC has repealed these [media consolidation] rules, the number of independent sources that provide prime-time programming to the major broadcast networks has decreased from 23 in the early 1990s to only two today. There is no justification for this," said Mr. Adelstein, who holds a Democratic seat on the FCC. "Today, instead of directors, producers, writers and actors being free to share their creative talents, they're being forced to integrate and promote products to improve the networks' bottom line for Wall Street."
Marty Kaplan on The Huffington Post
But...will these hearings actually DO anything? From FMQB
While Kevin Martin's first term as FCC Chairman expired on June 30, a hold has been placed on his nomination to a second term on the commission, according to Broadcasting & Cable. Martin was renominated in April by the President for a second, five-year term, and in September, the Senate Commerce Committee voted 21 to 0 to approve the renomination. However, an expected floor vote before the election break has not happened yet.
Sources say that it is a policy issue, not a personal one, that prompted the hold, and the hold can be lifted at any time, according to B&C. One theory floating around is that the hold was placed by Senator John Sununu (R-NH) over the issue of e911 - the requirement, pushed by the FCC, that interconnected VOIP services deliver 911 calls to a local emergency operator as a standard feature rather than an option. However, any Senator can place a hold on a renomination.
At this point the hold has little effect since even without renomination, Martin could still serve until the close of the next session of Congress, which is in the fall of 2007. If the hold is not lifted by the Senate's planned exit on October 30, Martin could still get a vote in a lame duck session starting in November, or even a recess appointment by the President, says B&C.
The Chicago Tribune is perhaps feeling a bit anxious...(From ChicagoBusiness
"The Tribune Co. that owns the L.A. Times and these other stations operates out of Chicago and not L.A., and there is something about that that is inherently undemocratic," (Jesse)Jackson said.
The media ownership issue has not reached the same level of interest as it did in 2003, when the FCC was besieged with complaints from media consolidation foes on both the right and the left. This time around, the marquee issue - the national broadcast audience cap - is off the table.
Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell was criticized for conducting only one public hearing three years ago before the commission voted on the media ownership rules. Current FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has taken a different approach, promising six meetings in all, with future sites yet to be announced.
The ownership rules exist because the broadcast airwaves are owned by the public, and the law requires that the public interest be considered in how they are regulated. Too much control over the broadcast media in a market is deemed not in the public interest, though limits have been loosened over the years.
The FCC will grant a waiver of its rules on cross-ownership between newspapers and broadcasters when the property to be bought is in financial trouble. In New York City, for example, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. was granted a permanent waiver to purchase the New York Post, even though he owned a television station at the time.
In the Tribune case, the company bought the Los Angeles Times and the rest of the Times Mirror chain, betting that the FCC would change the cross-ownership rule before the station licenses would come up for renewal.