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!

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