In a major op-ed in Politico, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps (2001-2011) raised the alarm over the FCC's proposed rule change allowing media cross-ownership in the top 20 media markets. As they said:
"The Federal Communications Commission may be on the verge of making a bad situation worse. It is considering a rule change that would clear the way for even more media consolidation. All Americans should be deeply concerned."
The FCC is pursuing lifting the ban despite the fact that they have worked well for the past 35 years, and that the last times the FCC tried to lift the bans it was soundly defeated. According to Sanders and Copps, "Those proposals met with 3 million public comments, 99 percent of which opposed the FCC's proposal. The Senate rejected each of the attempts to weaken the rules by passing bipartisan resolutions of disapproval. A federal appeals court also rejected the FCC proposals."
The media companies and the FCC, along with their political and media supporters claim that the rules are outdated, and that the media have grown, if anything, more diverse. But as Sanders and Copp point out, "In 1983, 90 percent of the American media was owned by 50 companies. Today, 90 percent is controlled by just six corporations: General Electric, News Corp., Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS."
Moreover, the claim that the new media have obviated the need for radio and TV diversity. But this is wrong on so many fronts. Sanders and Copp said succinctly that, "despite the emergence of the Internet, it is clear that there is now less competition at the top of our media markets, not more. Many of the most popular Internet news websites are controlled by the same corporations that are dominant in other media. Today, the vast majority of people still get their local news from their local television or radio stations, or their local newspaper."
But the proposed rule changes are still provoking strong opposition - and not just from Sanders and Copps.
Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) circulated a congressional letter to the FCC commissioners decrying the claim that the rules are outmoded. She "was particularly concerned about the FCC's suggestion that lifting the limits on radio-TV and radio-newspaper ownership was ending 'outdated prohibitions.' Instead, she said, they support diversity, competition and localism."
A week earlier, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights pointed out that minority ownership of radio and TV is already perilously low, and consolidation of ownership would only exacerbate the problem. "The expansion of minority and female ownership in media," wrote the LCCHR, "is an important goal for the civil rights community because of the powerful role the media plays in the democratic process, as well as in shaping perceptions about who we are as individuals and as a nation." The LCCHR was joined by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies who wrote to Chairman Genachowski saying that "the Joint Center recommends more time for the Commission to develop a robust record on minority and female broadcast media ownership before it considers relaxing rules intended to promote diversity."
And five Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to Genachowski saying "It is the commission's job to protect and promote this localism and diversity in our marketplace of ideas."
Lastly, seven church and community organizations wrote to the FCC through the Georgetown Law Institute for Public Representation stating that the rules changes were inimical to society. "We believe," they wrote, "that the harms to diversity would be far greater than any alleged benefits."
LCCHR letter to the FCC (Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Nov. 20, 2012)
Joint Center Responds to FCC Broadcast Ownership Report (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Dec. 13, 2012)
Commerce panel Dems 'deeply concerned' with FCC plan to weaken media rules (The Hill, Dec. 14, 2012)
Letter, Georgetown Law Institute for Public Representation (Nov. 27, 2012)