Yesterday I wrote about the need for systematic change in this country and why Barack Obama had the best plan and record to accomplish that of any of the candidates running. In that diary I talked about his support for public financing of elections and the bills he had introduced to make that a reality with progressive champion Russ Feingold. Since I wrote that I have found out he introduced a bill to publicly finance elections in the Illinois State Senate too. Hard to still make the claim that he is only doing this to win votes.
There is a old saying in the media reform movement "if media is not your number one issue, it has to be your second issue." In this post I am going to focus on my second issue, media reform.
The current media sucks. We all know that. Mainstream media covered in detail every bit of the pointless Clinton impeachment. There hasn't been a peep from them about impeaching Bush Co on real charges. That's just one example. We all know that Fox News is not balanced but they are not the only ones. Why does the media have such biases? Because it's in their interest. About 90 percent of the media is owned by a few giant multinational corporates like GE. GE also has defense contracts. Start to get the connection? Why would GE owned NBC want to uncover defense contract abuse or do hard hitting investigations about the war? They wouldn't is the answer because it goes against their interests. With the current media policy a bunch of old white men own all the media and their is almost no diversity. This also means the issues that matter to women or minorities are not focused on.
I probably don't need to spend a lot of time convincing you on how bad the media is. But we could have much better media if we had better media policy. And if we had better media then the progressive message could be communicated more effectively and besides we would have decent media.
The ubber-power that controls media policy in the US is the FCC (Federal Communications Council). The president gets too appoint three members of the panel from his party and the other party gets to recommend who to appoint for the other two spots on the FCC. This makes control of the presidency very important for media policy. A president can ram just about anything through the FCC if they have loyalists in the FCC. Bush does and so the Republican controlled FCC just pushed through a big present for Big Media by changing the rules to let Big Media get even bigger. At the time I wrote a diary on why this was such a bad move and what we could do to try to stop it so if you want to learn more about that recent move check it out.
Barack Obama opposed that move. On October 22 he wrote to the Chairman of the FCC, Kevin Martin opposing the proposal. Here is that letter.
Dear Chairman Martin:
I am writing regarding your proposal to move forward aggressively with modifications to existing media ownership rules. According to press accounts, you intend to present specific changes to existing rules in November with a Commission vote on that proposal – whatever it may be – on December 18, 2007. I believe both the proposed timeline and process are irresponsible.
Minority owned and operated newspapers and radio stations play a critical role in the African American and Latino communities and bring minority issues to the forefront of our national discussion. However, the Commission has failed to further the goals of diversity in the media and promote localism, and as a result, it is in no position to justify allowing for increased consolidation of the market. Moreover, 30 days of public review of a specific proposed change is insufficient to assess the effect that change would have on the media marketplace or the rationale on which any such proposal is based.
While the FCC did commission two studies on minority ownership in the round of 10 studies it ordered at the beginning of 2007, both suffered from the same problem – inadequate data from which to make determinations on the status of minority media ownership or the causes for that status and ways to increase representation.
It is time to put together an independent panel, as Commissioner Adelstein has recommended, to issue a specific proposal for furthering the goal of diversity in media ownership. I object to the agency moving forward to allow greater consolidation in the media market without first fully understanding how that would limit opportunities for minority, small business, and women owned firms.
I also object to the Commission’s propensity to vet proposals through leaks to the press and lobbyists. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report in September 2007 titled, "The FCC Should Take Steps to Ensure Equal Access to Rulemaking Information." In that report, GAO found that: "Situations where some, but not all, stakeholders know what the FCC is considering for an upcoming vote undermine fairness and transparency of the process and constitute a violation of the FCC’s rules." The report went on to state: "This imbalance of information is not the intended result of the Communications Act and it runs contrary to the principles of transparency and equal opportunity for participation established by law and to the FCC’s own rules that govern rulemaking."
In the wake of that report, I find it disturbing that, according to the New York Times, the Commission is considering repealing the newspaper and television cross ownership rules. It is unclear what your intent is on the rest of the media ownership regulations. Repealing the cross ownership rules and retaining the rest of our existing regulations is not a proposal that has been put out for public comment; the proper process for vetting it is not in closed door meetings with lobbyists or in selective leaks to the New York Times.
Although such a proposal may pass the muster of a federal court, Congress and the public have the right to review any specific proposal and decide whether or not it constitutes sound policy. And the Commission has the responsibility to defend any new proposal in public discourse and debate.
This is not the first time I have communicated with the agency on this matter. Senator Kerry and I wrote to you on July 20, 2006, stating that the Commission needed to address and complete a proceeding on issues of minority and small business media ownership before taking up the wider media ownership rules. Our request echoed an amendment adopted by the Senate Commerce Committee in June 2006. And last month, at an FCC hearing on media ownership held in Chicago, I requested that the FCC put out any specific changes that would be voted on in a new notice of proposed rulemaking so that the American people have an opportunity to review it.
In closing, I ask you to reconsider your proposed timeline, put out any specific change to the rules for public comment and review, move to establish an independent panel on minority and small business media ownership, and complete a proceeding on the responsibilities that broadcasters have to the communities in which they operate.
Senator Barack Obama
He didn't just write letters though. He also co-sponsored a bill (S.2332) with Senator Byron Dorgan to prevent the FCC from pushing ahead with that plan. Unfortunately it only made it out of the Commerce Committee (were it passed unanimously) and the vote went ahead but it is still possible to block the changes. Here was his statement when it passed the Commerce Committee.
"The rules promoting the public interest and diversity in media ownership are too important to allow the FCC Chairman to force through an agenda supported by Washington lobbyists that favors corporate interests over the people’s interests. I commend the Senate Commerce Committee for passing the Dorgan-Lott-Obama Media Ownership Act. The bill requires what I have been urging for more than a year – that the FCC place its public charge ahead of its concern for corporate profits.
"We must ensure that we have an open media market that represents all of the voices in our diverse nation, and allows them to be heard. One important way to do this is to expand the ownership stake of women-owned, minority-owned and small businesses in our media outlets. The more the rules let media outlets fall into the hands of big media conglomerates, the less likely our leaders are to be responsive to the public’s needs and in particular, the needs of minority communities. The FCC needs to meet its obligations to diverse communities and ensure that broadcasters are doing right by the communities they operate in before it considers loosening any media ownership regulations.
"Congress cannot continue to allow the FCC to move forward with regulatory changes through leaks to the press and closed door meetings. This legislation will ensure that any changes to FCC rules will be done through a fully transparent and inclusive process, fully taking into account the interests of our minority communities. I thank my colleagues for their leadership on this issue."
On November 8th he teamed up with John Kerry to pen a op-ed for the Politico about the proposal and media consolidation in general.
The bedrock of America's greatest advances — the foundation of what we
know today are defining values — was formed not by cheering on things
as they were, but by taking them on and demanding change.
The thoughtful exchange of diverse viewpoints not only helps guarantee
our freedom as individuals, it ensures those in power can be held
accountable for all that they do.
But to engage in the debates that have always made America stronger,
it takes a stage and a platform for discussion — and never before have
these platforms been more endangered.
In recent years, we have witnessed unprecedented consolidation in our
traditional media outlets. Large mergers and corporate deals have
reduced the number of voices and viewpoints in the media marketplace.
At the same time, massive technological change and an explosion of
Internet access have opened new avenues for information and new
methods of discourse. One thing we can be sure of: Change is upon us.
As we look toward the future, we must ensure that all voices in our
diverse nation have the opportunity to be heard. One important way to
do this is to expand the ownership stake of women-owned,
minority-owned and small businesses in our media outlets.
History provides plenty of proof.
Minority-owned radio stations, television stations and newspapers
played an essential role in battling segregation during the civil
When Hurricane Katrina struck, minority-owned media outlets helped
expose the true depth of poverty and inequality that others were
content to ignore.
Even today, while much of the media establishment has moved on,
minority-owned media outlets continue to highlight these issues as the
victims of that storm continue to struggle — two years later.
Just recently, African-American radio stations — together with
coverage on the Internet — helped propel the injustice in Jena, La.,
into the national spotlight.
Providing opportunities for minority-owned businesses to own media
outlets is fundamental to creating the diverse media environment that
federal law requires and the country deserves and demands.
The Federal Communications Commission is the agency charged with
governing the media. The FCC has an obligation to promote the public
interest, including diversity in media ownership.
Unfortunately, the FCC has failed to adequately assess the state of
minority-owned media or develop constructive ways to encourage
underrepresented entities to become larger players in the media
Now we understand the FCC may soon consider changes in the media
ownership rules that only help big media get bigger, but do nothing to
make media more responsive to minority viewpoints and local
The FCC tried this once before, in 2003. At that time, the nation's
top broadcasters met behind closed doors with FCC officials more than
70 times. But the public was not invited. After the proposed rules
were announced, a major public backlash ensued.
It has taken the FCC — still smarting from that public reaction — four
years to try again. This time, any changes to the media ownership
rules must encourage new entrants into the market and prioritize the
entry of small, women- and minority-owned businesses.
Last year, we urged FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to address the issue of
diversity in media ownership.
Several other leaders in Congress — including Sen. Robert Menendez of
New Jersey, Rep. Hilda L. Solis of California and Rep. John Conyers
Jr. of Michigan — have also pressed the FCC to stop allowing greater
corporate consolidation and start promoting media diversity. But our
questions went unanswered, and our concerns continue to grow.
If the FCC chairman chooses to reopen media ownership rules, he must
take into consideration the needs of local or minority communities.
If this is done improperly, more radio stations, television stations
and newspapers will fall into the hands of fewer owners and those
owners are less likely to include minority firms. It means that fewer
minority- and independently owned stations and newspapers will be able
to contribute to the national dialogue.
Today the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is
scheduled to hold a hearing on these issues, and we ask our colleagues
to take this opportunity to have an open and honest debate on this
For too long now, the FCC has been putting corporate interests ahead
of the people's interests. It's time for that to change.
We need to not only create the opportunity for minority-owned
businesses to participate in the market, but also to help those who
enter this business succeed. We will keep fighting until we have a
free and open media that represents every American in our diverse
Barack Obama is a senator from Illinois and a Democratic presidential
candidate. John F. Kerry, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and
Transportation Committee, is a senator from Massachusetts and was the
2004 Democratic presidential nominee.
On December 14th he again teamed up with John Kerry to write to Martin urging him to delay the vote and threatening to cut off funding for the FCC if he didn't.
Dear Chairman Martin:
Your testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee on December 13, 2007 restates your intention to move forward aggressively with a proposal that would relax media ownership rules with respect to the Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule. We reiterate our call from July of last year and in various forums over the last two months for you to delay this vote for a period of time sufficient for the Commission to examine the status of minority and women media ownership in the United States, and to establish a policy to effectively address the need to promote greater diversity in media markets.
With respect to this issue, the intent of the Senate Commerce Committee was made clear with its decision to unanimously report S. 2332, the Media Ownership Act of 2007. Section 2 of this bill would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish and convene an independent panel to make recommendations for specific rules to increase the representation of women and minorities in the ownership of broadcast media. The bill further states that the FCC must act on the panel's recommendations before voting on any changes to its broadcast and newspaper ownership rules.
We recognize the widespread animosity aimed at the direction of the Commission regarding Tuesday’s scheduled vote. We understand that for a variety of reasons you are being asked to postpone the vote to permit more time for the Commission to fully understand how a relaxation in the Cross-Ownership Rule will impact other important issues such as localism. It is our hope that the sum of these objections will convince you to delay this vote until a time following the Commission’s consideration of other pressing matters. Specifically, we believe that moving forward with this change will have a direct and detrimental impact on the state of media diversity. Should you decide to move forward with this vote against the expressed bipartisan, bicameral intent of Congress, we will approach Appropriations Chairman Byrd with a request that funds be denied for the implementation of this rule.
Thank you for your consideration. Should you have any questions regarding this request, please do not hesitate to contact any of us at any time.
Sen. John Kerry
Sen. Barack Obama
Despite all those efforts he could not change the fact that the majority of the FCC were Bush appointed Republicans. The FCC voted 3-2 for the changes. Obama was the first canidate to respond and he slammed the devision.
"Today the FCC failed to further the important goal of promoting diversity in the media and instead chose to put big corporate interests ahead of the people's interests. Minority owned and operated newspapers and radio stations play a critical role in African American and Latino communities and help bring minority issues to the forefront of our national dialogue. We must ensure that we have an open media market that represents all of the voices in our diverse nation, and allows them to be heard.
"I am disappointed that the FCC failed to meet its obligations to diverse communities and ensure that broadcasters are doing right by the communities in which they operate. Congress will not stand by and allow the FCC to move forward with these regulatory changes, and I will urge my colleagues to push forward legislation that ensures any changes will be evaluated and modified in a transparent and inclusive process, and fully takes into account the interests of our women and minority-owned outlets, and communities."
That's all about one FCC ruling though not about his plans for the future. He isn't running for FCC Chair so he doesn't have a ten page plan on media policy but he does have include media as part of his tech plan and Matt Stoller of OpenLeft who is usually a critic of Obama has praised his media plans and has said that he might vote for Obama because his media plans are so good. Here is what he had to say about him.
Obama's plan is very different. I was on a call yesterday where the campaign's wonky advisers explained that political appointees will have to pledge not to lobby the government after their term is over. His plan covers media consolidation, pushing for more localism and diverse ownership requirements. It stakes out a wireless spectrum owned and operated by the public, with clear openness requirements. His FCC will define broadband as broadband, instead of playing corrupt telecom games. And I'm convinced that no one will be stronger on net neutrality than Obama, who signed onto the net neutrality bill as one of his first actions in the Senate.
The Obama campaign and Obama himself get these issues on a very fundamental level. Instead of nonsensical worries about violence on TV marring the children, Obama takes privacy very seriously in his plan. Instead of ludicrous discussions of fake public-private partnerships around failed models of broadband deployment that dance around net neutrality, Obama is clear and forceful on the issue.
It's really a generational split here. Obama gets, on a gut level, the importance of the internet and the open culture that has created much of our wealth and opportunity. Clinton is entirely about a 1970s and 1980s suburbanized corrupt form of politics, where you give everything important to industry while demagoguing on issues like violence on TV for the children (doing nothing about it, of course). It's an entirely fake and disgusting model of engagement on the media reform and internet freedom agenda.
I don't always agree with Matt but he knows media policy to the core and when he says Obama has a great media policy I'd tend to trust him.
You can also find this statement clearly on his issues page.
Encourage Diversity in Media Ownership: Barack Obama believes that the nation’s rules ensuring diversity of media ownership are critical to the public interest. Unfortunately, over the past several years, the Federal Communications Commission has promoted the concept of consolidation over diversity. Barack Obama believes that providing opportunities for minority-owned businesses to own radio and television stations is fundamental to creating the diverse media environment that federal law requires and the country deserves and demands. As president, he will encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation’s spectrum. An Obama presidency will promote greater coverage of local issues and better responsiveness by broadcasters to the communities they serve.
From his work and op-ed with Kerry to his opposition to the FCC's Big Media giveaway to Matt's praise of his plan it's hard to say he doesn't have a strong position on media policy. Matt has more access to his advisers and he probably knows a few of them so he is about as good a source as you can get on what a Obama Administration's media priorities would be like.
This might not have been as interesting or as detailed as my last post but Senators have a lot more control over election reform then media policy. But on all the media issues that he has dealt with in the Senate Obama has not only voted the right way, he lead. Hopefully this will have provided some good information and even if Obama is not you're first choice think about what should be you're second priority and make the canidate who is leading on that you're second choice.
And it's money season so again I will repeat what I said in the last diary.
I will have posts up on his ethics and transparency record and also his record on election reform coming soon. Until then, try not to start a flame war, OK?
3 days 'till change.