Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Tyra & Janet's Ass Chat | Mother-In-Law Apartments »

Saturday, December 2, 2006

FCC Hearings

posted by on December 2 at 12:06 PM

On Thursday night, two of the five FCC commissioners—the two Democratic commissioners—were in Seattle for a public hearing at the Downtown Library. Under consideration: A proposal by the GOP-appointed FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to further loosen media ownership rules so, for example, a single company would be able to own TV stations and a newspaper in the same market. Critics of the proposed rules changes correctly argue that relaxing media ownership regulations will lead to more consolidation of the media in fewer and fewer corporate hands—and squash diversity of reporting and views.

There were opening remarks from: liberal Rep. Jay Inslee, who has fought these rules changes in the House and is pushing a bill to promote local ownership; the two liberal commissioners who strongly oppose the rules changes; and Frank Blethen, who—differentiating himself from most owners in the mainstream media—also opposes the rules. (I imagine that’s because he realizes the giant Hearst Corp., which owns the PI, would have a life-threatening advantage over his Seattle Times if the rules were lifted. But nonetheless, Blethen’s remarks eloquently echoed the undisputed sentiment on the panel and in the room that big media is bad.)

I had to leave shortly after the public testimony started, but judging from the first round I did hear—and from blog reports over at HorsesAss (posted by Geov Parrish, who’s now blogging with Goldy) and from the effusive and always too-easily-impressed- with-liberal-rhetoric Andrew (over at Northwest Progressive Institute, it went as expected: A redundant chorus of lefties denouncing big media.

I certainly agree that these rules changes are terrible, but the nagging question I had going into the hearing isn’t being addressed. The big question, I think, has to do with the Internet. While TV and newspapers are still important, something about the hearing—and particularly the histrionic tone of the speakers—felt archaic to me.

Both Andrew and Parrish touch on the Internet issue. But, incorrectly I think. They credit Rep. Jay Inslee and radio host John Carlson (who also spoke) with adequately dispensing of the notion that the Internet is making the problem of TV and newspaper consolidation a bit irrelevant.

Parrish touted Carlson, writing:

…several compelling progressive arguments against cross-ownership went entirely unmentioned. (For example, addressing the pro-business argument that Internet diversity makes distinctions between regulated broadcast stations and unregulated newspapers irrelevant — an argument Carlson skewered — by noting either that many Americans still don’t have home Internet access, let alone broadband, or that while diverse information is widely available on the Internet, citizens must seek it out — through search engines, links, or URLs — whereas turning a dial, flipping through a remote, or dropping quarters in a box gets you radio, TV, and newspapers, a far more general mass audience.)

And Andrew touted Inslee, writing:

Representative Jay Inslee, who reminded the gathering that media consolidation is not a problem that can be solved by the Internet alone.

I’m also guilty of trying to dispense with the notion that the Internet is a cure-all for media consolidation. In the comments thread of a Slog post promoting the hearing, I addressed the Internet issue:

Josh, In all seriousness, why do I care since I get all my news on the internet? I’m inclined to agree, but I’m looking for reason. I’m open to reason. Posted by: Y Generation | November 22, 2006 04:26 PM

Y Generation,
1) Internet providers are owned by big Telecom companies, and those companies…AT&T…can certainly get in on the media ownership game. So, the Internet is hardly safe from media consolidation. Read up on Net Neutrality, YG… current rules allow big Internet providers to discriminate against smaller content providers in terms of distribution.
2) You, Y Generation, may be a savvy and discerning Internet news hound, but a lot of folks aren’t. And so, while you’re well-armed with diverse, independent analysis, others—the majority of others, who can out-vote people like you at election time—are not. Soooo, don’t you want those folks exposed to as many different sources as possible…rather than one giant media corp?
Posted by: Josh Feit | November 22, 2006 04:33 PM

However, my comments and Carlson’s comments and Inslee’s comments (Inslee cited a recent study that found 75% of Internet users say they watch local TV news twice a week) all ultimately miss the mark.

We’re all addressing 2006. You don’t have to be Isaac Asimov to know that the current situation is already a thing of the past. (I’d like to hear the context on Inslee’s stat. I can only imagine the percentage is trending down—and fast. I called his office on Friday after the hearing, and they’re getting me the report.)

This is all to say: Yes, Congress and/or the FCC needs to reject these rules changes. And No, the Internet isn’t the antidote. But the real discussion and energy needs to be about keeping the Internet safe from corporate claws. Google’s purchase of YouTube is already raising concerns.

The dramatic FCC discussion seems to divert attention from where the real focus needs to be.

Inslee, actually, is a leader in Congress on a more germane issue:Net Neutrality— the wise notion that all content providers must be treated equally by the big Telecom and cable companies that control the Internet pipelines. Additionally, cable companies are regulated by municipalities, and so local governments have just as important a role to play—if not more important—as we confront the future of media consolidation.

RSS icon Comments


I was also at the hearing, and like you, I didn't stay to listen to all the public testimony, once it became obvious that it was going to be a chorus of people objecting to the FCC's proposed change.

Net neutrality is a hugely important issue. However, at this time, it is still only vaguely related to the issue that was the specific topic of the hearing: media ownership.

Despite the rapidly growing influence of blogs in generating opinion and discussion, overall they don't generate much original news reporting. A vast majority of original reporting is still done by traditional media (either TV or Newspaper). Most of the "news" available on the internet still originates from those sources.,, etc, are just regurgitating what they are putting on TV. Most of the news stories on Yahoo and Google news are just recycled wire stories. SLOG's morning news is mostly either snarks or calls attention to wire stories. Despite the growing influence of political blogs, most original reporting was originated from traditional media sources, and all the polling that was done was paid for either by candidates campaigns or traditional news sources.

You are implying that that may change. Maybe yes. Maybe no. It may over time, but I'm not convince that it will. Or at least not as rapidly as you think. It costs a lot of money to send a reporter and crew to Iraq, or to Washington DC, or Sudan, or Colorado Springs, or wherever, or to pay for unbiased public opinion polling. There is already a business model in place for paying that overhead in the newspaper and TV world. There is not yet an effective business model for paying for that overhead exclusively on the internet. Salon tried a pay service, which bombed. So far, nobody has succeeded in convincing a large enough segment of the population to pay for an online subscription service for news to make it financially viable. The news available online is pretty much all free content, supported in part by advertising (like the Stranger and Slog sites). Your model works fine on a local level. You have a relatively small staff that pretty much sticks to local reporting (with the occasional road trip). Savage does some stuff that is syndicated, but that seems to be separate from the Stranger. And I'm guessing that most of your ad revenue comes from the print Stranger. Could you afford to completely drop the print Stranger, and survive solely as an online entity? And, more relevantly, could CNN? The New York Times? Reuters? AP?

Personally, I suspect it will be like Newspapers after TV was invented. Lots of people thought TV would completely supplant newspapers. Sure, radio, and later TV, cut severely into newspaper sales, but it didn't eliminate newspapers entirely. There are still lots of people who either prefer newspapers, or who want a variety of sources for their news, in print and on TV and on the radio. I think the internet will over time step in and we'll see more original reporting solely from internet sources, but I'm not convinced it will completely replace older methods of news reporting.

So, yes, Net Neutrality is important. But I think the regulation of tradition media, and the effects of consolidation of mega media companies, is still the more important issue, and will be for at least the next decade.

Posted by SDA in SEA | December 2, 2006 1:19 PM

Even when the Stranger agrees with someone who is lefty, it always has to qualify it with an insult, just to show, you know, that the Stranger is cool. If they don't show up to the hearing, they're idiots. If they do, they're right but not right enough, and anyway redundant and archaic. They're still behind the cool curve. You heard it at the Stranger (TM) first.

Posted by the chorus | December 2, 2006 4:17 PM

The Chorus,

Oh, go hang.

I was bringing up what I think are legit criticisms and concerns.

If you disagree with my take on the hearing please post about it like Comment #1.

This stuff about how writers for the Stranger think they're "so cool" is just dumb.

Posted by Josh Feit | December 2, 2006 5:14 PM

Net neutrality is the only issue here worth discussing. Cross ownership of papers and TV stations? Who cares? TV is migrating to the web. The big media companies have said they are no longer interested in the cross-ownership rule. They are migrating their video content to the web.

Someday, your video will come via the Internet from the same big media companies who provide it now. The great freedom of the web cuts two ways. Makes it easier for average folks to reach an audience but also makes it easier for big media companies to broaden their audience.

Arguing about media companies owning a paper and a TV station or two in the same town is a 20th century argument. And it's now totally irrelevant. These hearings are just a chance for a bunch of lefties to score points with their political base and for Frank Blethen (a media dinosaur if ever there was one) to whine about how the world owes him a living.

Get over it!

Posted by Prospero | December 2, 2006 6:15 PM

Newspapers have the only true newsrooms. Most others are simply parasites.

Posted by DOUG. | December 3, 2006 10:00 PM

I am very concerned about what is going on with these proposed changes. I am from the Baby Boomer era and my idea of country, is George Jones, and new artist like Gary Bennett, but they don't have a chance with the current payolla. I like Keith Urban but he is not country to me and will never give me the FEELINGS and mind set I get from true country. We know these artist struggle and everyone that loves true country knows that struggle and that why their is a fit. Why don't they do a survey of the Baby boomers. They are reaching those retirement years and want to relax with true country. We have earned it!

Posted by Burnell R. Brusveen | December 12, 2006 12:25 PM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).