News Last night’s FCC hearing
posted by November 10 at 11:21 AMon
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.