News FCC Hearings
posted by December 2 at 12:06 PMon
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
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.