Saturday, November 10, 2007

Debriefing - FCC hearing on Media Ownership, Nov 9, Seattle

The FCC hearing was very interesting last night. If there was any single take-away from the event, it was that any change of media ownership rules that would result in further consolidation of the media and a further sidelining of localism in broadcasting and journalism, is a non-partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike came out strongly against it.

Washington state Governor Christine Gregoire (D) opened the proceeding, followed by Washington state Attorney Genl Rob McKenna, and US Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA, via video) and other state and federal government figures from Washington state.

Mr McKenna (R), US Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Talk Radio-head John Carlson (R, and candidate for WA governor in 2000) all argued very eloquently AGAINST further consolidation and AGAINST relaxation of media ownership rules. Most of the attendees had decided ahead of their comments that none of them would take this position, and rudely tried to drown them out before allowing them to make their statements. When they did speak, many in the audience thought they had entered an alternate reality!

Only a handful of corporate representatives argued in favor of relaxation/consolidation, including a representative of the Washington Association of Broadcasters (NAB).

Then four of the five FCC commissioners made presentations. One of them, Robert McDowell (R), a telecommunications industry lobbyist before GW Bush nominated him to be an FCC commissioner, said (paraphrasing here): "I'm here to listen to you, Otherwise, I have nothing to say." This aroused cat-calls from the audience: "We want to hear what you have to say!" He demurred.

Commissioners Michael Copps (D) and Jonathan Adelstein (D) both slammed FCC Chairman Kevin Martin (R), who was sitting between them, for calling this meeting with five business days' notice. Transcripts of their comments, as well as comments from Deborah Tate, the only absent FCC commissioner (R), are available via the FCC's Web site, here

Mr Martin, who was a member of the Bush-Cheney transition team and Deputy General Counsel for the Bush campaignbefore being recommended for FCC chairmanship by GW Bush in 2005, was last of the four to speak, saying that his job is to uphold the laws passed by Congress (which means, the Telecom Act of 1996, passed by Gingrich's congress and signed into law by Clinton). So, essentially, he punted, verbally flipped off everyone in the hall and blamed Bill Clinton (for "forcing" him to allow further relaxation of the rules) all in a single sentence. He posted no written statement for the record, and he was difficult to hear.

Following this opening testimony, there were presentations from a moderated panel of media executives, followed by public commentary, then a second panel comprised of artists, then more public commentary. It was all excellent and noteworthy for the absence of "cranks." In fact, most of the members of the public were the senior "faces" of their organizations, including publishers, independent journalists, radio and TV stations, analysts and academics.

A summary is available on the Web site of Reclaim the Media, an organization that all concerned citizens should join and make contributions to.

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