Friday, October 26, 2007

Circling the Wagons

It’s been reported that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is aggressively attempting to push through changes to media ownership laws which could result in further consolidation of not just radio, but also television and print media. Although the FCC claims to recognize the importance of localism, competition and diversity, Martin’s own actions indicate otherwise.

In 2003, FCC Chairman Michael Powell also tried to ram through rule changes, but was strongly rebuked by the general public, not to mention the House, Senate and Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The congressional and court reprimand included a stern admonishment to hold public hearings on localism, competition and diversity before voting on any rule changes.

The FCC took Congress' advice and the commissioners have, indeed, attended formal and informal hearings over the past 18 months in Chicago, Tampa, Portland, Harrisburg, Nashville, and Los Angeles, where thousands of concerned citizens overwhelmingly expressed their opposition to any rule changes that would let Big Media companies swallow up more local outlets.

But these hearings aren’t worth much if the public isn’t a): given adequate time to prepare arguments, or b): provided date and location info until the absolute last minute, as is the case with the next event. Hmm, could this be a strategy?

Yesterday, the FCC finally released information pertaining to a rumored Washington D.C. hearing on localism. It takes place on Wednesday, October 31 — a mere week away. That leaves little time for anyone to organize concerns about the proposed rule changes — the specific details of which still remain a mystery.

The hearing will be held in FCC Room TW-C305 — which can only accommodate a hundred or so people. Makes you wonder if this, too, is a deliberate attempt to ignore public opinion.

In the past, FMC has helped to bring artists' voices to the debate, with Tift Merritt, Jenny Toomey, Chuck D., Tom Morello, Ted Leo, Boots Riley, the Indigo Girls and Mike Mills appearing as invited witnesses. Each musician talked frankly about how issues including media ownership, low power radio, payola and net neutrality affect their careers as musicians, and their access to information as citizens.

Key legislators are also on the side of diversity, competition and localism in media. A couple of days ago, Senators Dorgan and Lott held a joint press conference in which they called the FCC’s rush to relax ownership rules “a big mistake.” Check out the press conference here.

Here are some things you can do regarding the FCC and media ownership:

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 (map)

1. Attend the hearing and sign up to deliver a short statement on your thoughts on media and localism. We cannot guarantee that you will be allowed to testify -- or even that you'll be let in the building -- as we expect hundreds of people to show up, but the more people who show up just demonstrates the public's determination to make the FCC take these hearings seriously.

2. Watch the hearing. Audio/Video coverage of the meeting will be broadcast live with open captioning over the Internet from the FCC's Audio/Video Events web page at Spanish language translation service will be provided. In addition, the hearing will be recorded, and the recording will be made available to the public.

3. File a short comment on your thoughts on localism on the FCC website. The proceeding docket number is MB 04-233.

Learn more at StopBigMedia dot com.

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