Monday, October 29, 2007

Sanity may yet prevail

Senators from both parties have promised to act against any FCC move to lift the long-standing cross-ownership ban, just as they did in 2003. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, and Trent Lott, a Republican from Mississippi, said last week they would provide the same sort of bi-partisan opposition they did four years ago to allowing a newspaper owner to also hold a licence for a television station in the same city.
The two senators said they were studying several ideas for derailing the FCC's expected decision in December, including a rarely used mechanism called a "resolution of disapproval," which would require passage in both the Senate and the House. Dorgan said there was "massive support" for such a move among Democratic senators, who control the chamber. Lott was less sure about Republicans backing such an effort.
The threat to block any such FCC move makes it unlikely it will lift the cross-ownerswhip ban in the dying months of the Bush administration.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Salvos from left, right, and center

Now that a few days have passed since the New York Times revealed FCC Chair Kevin Martin's plan to push through by year's end a vote on lifting the long-standing ban on cross-ownership of a daily newspaper and a television station in the same city, the political fallout has started to descend. Predictably, the left-wing Nation magazine warns that the "FCC Promotes Media Monopolies" in its Act Now! blog.

FCC Commissioner Martin's latest attempt to curb as much diversity and democracy from the nation's media as possible is both a mogul's dream and a citizen's nightmare.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), on the other hand, lauded research studies done for or by the FCC as they "support the case for reforming outmoded ownership restrictions that only apply to local broadcast stations."

The trade association notes that the Commission's studies generally demonstrate the lack of harm, and the benefits that would be gained, from allowing local broadcasters to adopt more economically viable ownership structures. In particular, NAB points out, the studies show that the cross-ownership of broadcast outlets with newspapers actually promote the Commission's traditional goals of competition, diversity and localism.

Has everybody forgotten last summer's revelations made by Senator Barbara Boxer of California, who produced not one but two studies that had been suppressed by the FCC because they did not support the FCC's deregulationist agenda? No wonder the NAB likes the FCC's ownership studies, because it seems they only release the ones that support lifting the cross-ownership ban.

Finally, Barack Obama lambasted Martin on the campaign trail for rushing through the deregulation bid in the dying months of the Bush administration. Can it be? Will media ownership finally thrust into the national spotlight and even become . . . dare we dream . . . AN ELECTON ISSUE!!! Well, reading a little bit further in the campaign trail story, it appears Obama may just be playing to his base.

In a letter sent Monday to Martin, Obama called the accelerated timeline proposed by the chairman "irresponsible," saying the FCC had failed to take steps to encourage greater involvement in media ownership by minority and local interest groups. "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," said Obama.

In other words, politics as usual. Grrrr!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Media armageddon is nigh

Thus the final battle begins. Should we really be surprised? Why would we think they wouldn't at least try one last time to rewrite the rules on cross-media ownership? Just because they got slapped down so convincingly a few years ago by both Senate and the courts? Well, apparently that wasn't enough to cool the fervor for media consolidation of the Bushies who hold a 3-2 majority on the FCC. Neither does the fact that almost three million Americans protested the last time they tried to quietly lift the ban on owning both a daily newspaper and a television station in the same city. But hey, what have they got to lose? Bush has just over a year left in his mandate, after which it may be a while before the Republicans see power again. Here's a quote from the story in this morning's New York Times:
In recent months, industry executives had all but abandoned the hope that regulators would try to modify the ownership rules in the waning days of the Bush administration.
I guess it just goes to show that there's no limit to how far deregulationists will go in their quest to remove any and all safeguards erected to protect the public interest. Perhaps they think people have such a short memory that they won't rise up in anger again the way they did in 2003. (Can it really be four years ago?) For those of you unfamiliar with that episode, here's a nice little recap in the Columbia Journalism Review. According to Gal Beckerman, the public anger that was directed at the FCC's end run around the media ownership limits was fuelled by the role U.S. media played in enabling the invasion of Iraq.
The massive public response to the rule changes, in fact, had been unprecedented. For months before and after the new rules were announced on June 2, opposition had been loud, passionate, and active. Hundreds of thousands of comments were sent to the FCC, almost all in opposition. It was the heaviest outpouring of public sentiment the commission had ever experienced.

The new head of the FCC, Kevin Martin, can expect just the same kind of furious reaction that his predecessor, Michael Powell, experienced. It could get very hot in the chair's seat, as evidenced by this quote from today's Times article:

“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.”

If this all unfolds over the next couple of months, as the Times story suggests, things could get very heated indeed. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Marc gets a blog

I didn't think I'd like blogging. I was wrong. . . .