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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Last night’s FCC hearing

posted by on November 10 at 11:21 AM

posted by news intern Brian Slodysko


The FCC held the last of six nation-wide hearings last night at Seattle’s Town Hall. The hearings were held to gather citizen input on proposed deregulations of airwaves by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. Deregulation would allow media conglomerates to have rights to a greater number of broadcast frequencies within small regional markets. Essentially, FCC deregulation would cut out local broadcast stations, clearing the path for media giants like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Clear Channel and Tribune Broadcasting to monopolize airwaves.

The proposed rule changes would also permit cross ownership, so that one corporation could own newspaper, radio, and TV in one market.

In this latest round of deregulation attempts, Chairman Kevin Martin has been beaten up by the press for trying to pass a clandestine agenda. The hearings themselves went unannounced until the last date allowed by law. The two democratic members of the five person commission made no qualms in criticizing the Republican majority for trying to railroad the changes through during the tail end of the Bush White House.

I arrived as Democratic commissioner Jonathan Adlestein was riling up the crowd, laying into the three Republican members of the committee for trying to limit publicity for the mandatory citizen input hearings.

When Martin took the podium he fired back, accusing the commission’s two Democrats of dragging their heels in previous stages of the process, delaying the commission’s deliberation process. Martin said the new rules were only keeping in compliance with objectives set by the 1996 Congress. Of course, there is a bill making its way through the current Congress—with bi-partisan support—that would override the FCC’s rule change agenda.


The crowd was downright rude as the commissioners spoke. They cut them off—cheering when the two Democrats spoke and interrupting the Republican chairman with hisses, cat calls, and incoherent yelling. Some guy up front continuously screamed “Fascist” at Martin, which I begrudgingly admit was funny.

I understand their frustration, but unruly remarks from the peanut gallery can only shrink the audience credibility during subsequent testimony.

Later in the evening, I caught up with Mark Allen, President of Washington State Broadcasters Association. The crowd liked Allen as much as they liked Martin. It didn’t phase him. He said the crowd’s unruliness would likely undermine their resonance with the commission. On the subject of deregulation, Allen said corporations simply want to alleviate some of the burden shouldered by over-worked local broadcasters.

When I asked him if large media companies caused the burden he was speaking of, he dodged the question.

Ending on a cynical note he said, “In the end, each local station is just another number for the consumer to choose from.”

The Seattle Times’ Frank Blethen was part of media panel that spoke. Blethen made a good point: despite massive layoffs in newsrooms as a result of conglomeration, most publicly traded media companies continue to maintain at least an 18 percent profit margin.


Citizen testimony got of to a pretty good start with a number of journalists and community radio broadcasters heading up the vanguard. But as the night wore on, discourse devolved into the same old blah, blah, blah.

David Ward testified before the commission introducing himself as Rupert Mordoe, before delivering a “comedy” routine about the need to consolidate the media for the benefit of corporations.

He said he was inspired after seeing a woman perform an act satirically mimicking Hitler at FCC hearings last year.

“I try to get info across by going overboard—like Michael Moore.”

One man told the commission they were “flat out nuts.”

Taking a break from the insanity, I spoke with to Nathaniel James from the Media and Democracy Coalition.

He said even though increasing numbers of people are getting their media content from the Internet, people living in rural areas, or those with low income still rely on radio or TV for their information.

“I don’t know if you saw, there are a lot of people from Indian reservations, or situations with enormous disparity,” he said. “There’s a lot of internet access issues rolled up with that. We don’t even know what the Internet is going to look like in 10 years,” he said, referring to embattled Net Neutrality legislation that would mandate ISPs to treat all content equal.

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Just so you know
"FCC chairman Kevin Martin.jpg"
is a 2,56 x 1,920 pixel image.
Just a little big.

Posted by -B- | November 10, 2007 11:50 AM

we were there for the later parts last night and i have to agree that some people in the crowd were absolutely an embarrassment. i am as disgusted with where things are going in this country as pretty much anyone else in the room, but we do ourselves little credit as the opposition when we puerilize the tone and content of our arguments - the jeering and interrupting only takes away from the articulate / worthy arguments being made - and the ludicrous/batshitcrazy/rambling and incoherent statements made by some are probably just going to end up as jokes about how crazy people in seattle are, told over lunch somewhere in DC. we made a strong showing numbers-wise last night, but after seeing some of the ranting/rambling done by some (including jumping up on the stage, blathering about how hiphop brings us a world of "connectedness" without making any mention of, um, media consolidation, etc., and having a gaggle of drunk or stoned highschoolers blathering and interjecting loudly over whoever was speaking), i feel like perhaps the spirit and tone were degraded somehow.

it also was a bit annoying that a certain unpaid stranger intern was talking loudly and unapologetically on his cell phone from the back-left row of the hall. we know you've got a story to file, but the 'turn off cell phones' sign i think was supposed to apply to everyone, so that everyone could hear what was being said...

Posted by kinkos | November 10, 2007 12:06 PM

It sounds like Slog come alive.

Posted by elrider | November 10, 2007 12:18 PM

By "so that everyone could hear what was being said," I assume you're referring to the rhetoric of the loudmouths surrounding me; they definitely added to the discourse. Everyone else spoke through the PA.

Posted by Slodysko | November 10, 2007 12:24 PM

It's FAZE, not "phase", unless there was the expectation that Mr. Allen would change his physical state following his presentation. This is starting to surpass "for all intensive purposes" as "Most Annoying Journalistic Malapropism".

Posted by laterite | November 10, 2007 12:49 PM

I totally agree with kinkos. It's tiresome to me that one of the drawbacks of living in such a generally left-leaning progressive region is having to watch as a good message is diluted by the small but very vocal fringe of mental defects.

It's frustrating that they don't see how their erratic and disrespectful behavior is discrediting the people who are effectively working for change. How can someone expect to push things in the right direction by insulting and belittling the people they have to work with to get what they want? If you want a raise do you go into your boss's office, piss in his file cabinet, and tell him that your current wage sucks?

Just thinking about the loudmouths sitting around drinking their coffee this morning and patting themselves on the backs makes me want a drink...

Posted by mispel | November 10, 2007 1:19 PM

You guys are a bunch of elitists.

Posted by Trevor | November 10, 2007 3:16 PM

"How can someone expect to push things in the right direction by insulting and belittling the people they have to work with to get what they want?"
Many people that I have met here in Seattle, esp some of the younger ones, have very little experience of having to engage and get along with people with the opposite opinion. Coming from a small town, it is a thing of daily life. Be respectful- talk, listen, opinion and present your views. The other way is like a big stick and it hurts us all.

Thanks for attending Brian. And keep up the good work.

Posted by robert | November 10, 2007 3:20 PM

Hey, Intern!!!

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Here's a scoop for you!!!

Posted by Dude. | November 10, 2007 4:29 PM

The fact that 281 individuals got up to speak their two minutes on this issue at such short notice is an amazing thing. Who you may consider embarrassing in the crowd or at the mic in the later hours is of no consequence. The crowd kept each other in check just fine,and if you have a problem with someone yelling or talking on the phone too loud, get up and tell them so your damn self.
I feel the spirit was heightened by letting the relatively few people in the world who will actually see this event know that there is an active and alive public behind the camera and the microphone. What comes out in the "media" in the coming days and weeks will be a pale imitation of what actually happened here on Friday. Enjoy it now,and remember it while it's real .If we are silenced in the audience at a hearing like this,why show up at all ? Ever hear transcripts of British Parliament ? Or some of the recent Congressional hearings in the U.S.? It's vocal and rowdy sometimes,and thats the way people get when they are sick and tired of their voices being shut out of the discourse.
I was there from 9 p.m until 1 a.m and was proud to be a part of the vibrant and vocal scene happening there. Any nonsensical or embarrassing behavior may have been the result of your tired, overworked brain. The power of the individual voice is what mattered most,and that people spoke up. Quit complaining.

Posted by copy | November 10, 2007 10:58 PM

I just spoke with Jonathan Lawson from Reclaim The Media (full disclosure: he's my upstairs neighbor), and his headcount exceeded 1100, which is what's being reported on the RTM web site (, so this was a pretty impressive outpouring of support for media diversity (reportedly the highest attended of the six public hearing held), despite the FCC Chair Martin's blatant attempt to squelch public input and debate.

And speaking of which, it sounds like the Commission got exactly what they (at least the three GOP members) deserved. If the crowd Friday night exhibited so little respect for public decorum, they were simply reflecting the Commission's own lack of respect for the public process they are sworn to uphold. Keep in mind, the previous five public hearings were announced weeks, in some cases months in advance. That Martin specifically chose to wait until the last possible minute to announce the Seattle hearing date, simply serves to point up the fact he was trying to avoid the very thing that occured at Town Hall; a HUGE public groundswell of opposition to the proposed media deregulation standards the Commission is seeking to railroad through.

So, the fact that RTM was able to turn out more than 1,000 politicians, broadcasters, union representatives, media critics, and ordinary citizens - yes, even a few clearly bat-shit crazy citizens - on five days notice (and major props to Jonathan and his cadre of volunteers for pulling together an incredibly diverse constituency to give testimony on such short notice) speaks volumes as to the amount of public interest and concern there is regarding this issue.

Martin and the GOP majority on the Commission can chose to ignore the public input, which has been overwhelming against his proposal - at their peril. Seriously, when even fellow Republicans like Dave Reichert are willing to go on-record as saying further media deregulation is not in the public interest, and with a bipartisan move already underway in Congress to block the FCC, Martin has to see the writing on the wall.

That some of it came in the form of a few incoherent ramblings shouldn't in the least detract from the overwhelmingly cogent and articulate arguments made by many, many others.

Posted by COMTE | November 11, 2007 12:29 PM

to "copy"- Amen to that! In democracies one will encounter the broad spectrum of human abilities & behaviors, ie we're not all "above Average"... and I appreciate the reference to Parliament. We have some history of snide "back-benchers" in Congress, too... and some, like Newt Gingrich, said fabulous (if occasionally wittily snarky) things.
I was there from 4-10PM, and testified after the Raging Grannies got up to sing- about the only occasion all night that the 2-minute "shot clock" was ignored (they got, maybe, 25 seconds extra). I was never bored... on the contrary, I kept being surprised by the depth & breadth of the varied media experience indicated by the testimony given. Even some "off the cuff" speakers made salient points that had not emerged from earlier statements. The room's acoustics are great, and sound system so effective that there wasn't a "bad seat" (or a lousy "feed") anywhere. I'll remember this night with more fondness than the Nader-dominated WTO debates held there in 1999, because it wasn't wonk-dominated (or "big-personality"-inspired, either)... it was as close to "we, the people" as I can recall... & the more salient (& hopeful) for that fact. ^..^

Posted by herbert browne | November 11, 2007 4:33 PM

I attended from around 3:30 to 9:15 and was impressed by the attendees and their voices. It seemed that the hissing toward Martin began after he spoke his first sentence that was less than truthful. The masses are tired of not being listened to and lied to by minion of this administration. Like one individual stated "What is different from the last time that this commission was here, what don't you get? We said the same things then, no deregulation for increased consolidation, get it? They get it but they have their own agenda and it isn't in the public's interest. They were reminded that the airways belonged to the public and that these five companies that control the media do not fulfill their obligation to the public. That they just funnel the disinformation to us from the powerful that control their funnel. I liked the statement the President of the University of Washington gave. He talked about dumbing down, although he framed it much better. He stated that due to the lack of good, informative media that makes individuals think, the University gets young people who do not use critical thinking, that they are not aware of what is happening in the world, and that he holds the media responsible for a big part of this problem.
I think the commission got a good earful and I am proud of this region for their response to truth to power. Oh, to receive respect one has to give it. The FCC is suppose to work for the people of this country, they are not a lobby for big media, they work for us,our money pays their bills.

Posted by Mary | November 12, 2007 4:49 AM

I actually agree with Martin, and I think if some of the folks who attended the meeting would look at the big picture then they would too. His rules makes sense for today's media landscape. Local TV and radio stations are facing challenges from all angles as media continues to fragment.

I've done some work with NAB, so I've see that a lot of local TV and radio stations are kept afloat thanks to corporate resources. Relaxation of ownership rules is the only option that makes sense in today's media landscape.

Posted by Akers | November 12, 2007 7:35 AM


What you're saying is very much akin to arguing that to help the farming business we should encourage multinational agribusiness to buy up all the local farms. It may be better for somebody's bottom line, but it leads to a mono-culture that is more dangerous than slim profit margins, it kills local participation, while destroying communities.

Add to that a consideration of the role that media plays in our ability to understand the world around us, and it's clear that relaxing the ownership rules is the opposite of what should be happening.

Posted by Dan | November 12, 2007 8:38 AM

I found the panelists' pro-consolidation arguments downright scary, especially Cheryl A. Salomone from the Tri-Cities, who seemed to be backing corporate facism in the broadcast media. She also seemed to have been recently lobotomized.

Posted by DOUG. | November 12, 2007 11:18 AM

it really did become open-mic-night for some people, though. One guy actually said "I wrote this poem last week, before I even knew about the hearing" and then just read a poem. Others turned their "radio voices" up to 11, so smooth and overly rehearsed, almost masturbating with their own voices so it became almost hard to listen to their words. Then some people tried to "get real" with the committee, all man-to-man. It was very tense and painful.

Posted by jenny | November 12, 2007 12:01 PM

@10 - um, sure, 281 people spoke, and that's great. i'm not arguing that we all capitulate to the whims of the commission - instead, i'm saying that if we truly want to be heard and heeded to the fullest extent, we simply engage in clueful *advocacy* as opposed to rambling and/or disrespectful and/or irrelevant rants. jumping on the stage, last i checked, is not good advocacy. there are examples of good advocacy and bad advocacy out there (look at open source software for example - a pretty good parallel to the crowd at town hall) - in the cases of good advocacy, there is a clear, articulate message or demand that is unequivocally delivered loud and clear. in cases of bad advocacy, the clowns distract the decision makers from the clear and articulate message that needs to be delivered. it's good we got so many people up there, but i left there a lot *less* certain that the message was going to be heard and taken seriously than before i got there. from what i'm seeing here, i think that is the opinion of a lot of people who were there.

that being said, it sure is better than nothing and there's no question where the people stand on the issue.

Posted by kinkos | November 12, 2007 1:32 PM

It's a lot easier to repeat sanctimonious puffery about the "disrespectful" "clowns" (both for unpaid interns and commenters) than to actually take note of the strong arguments and effective advocacy on display at Town Hall.

The one guy I saw who "jumped on the stage" was Gavin Dahl from KAOS.. afterwards he got invited back to talk to Kevin Martin's staff and got to have more meaningful back-and-forth with FCC staff than nearly anyone else present (all as reported on his blog Digital Crossroads). So I'd say that was fairly effective advocacy.

Posted by jolene | November 16, 2007 11:20 AM

It's a lot easier to repeat sanctimonious puffery about the "disrespectful" "clowns" (both for unpaid interns and commenters) than to actually take note of the strong arguments and effective advocacy on display at Town Hall.

The one guy I saw who "jumped on the stage" was Gavin Dahl from KAOS.. afterwards he got invited back to talk to Kevin Martin's staff and got to have more meaningful back-and-forth with FCC staff than nearly anyone else present (all as reported on his blog Digital Crossroads). So I'd say that was fairly effective advocacy.

Posted by jolene | November 16, 2007 11:20 AM
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