FCC commissioner Michael Copps told a large group of citizens gathered in Chicago last month, "Too often consolidation has meant that media outlets are forced to respond to Wall Street rather than their audiences, resulting in homogenized and dumbed-down news that doesn't reflect who we are."
Copps and the four other commissioners were in Chicago in September for one in a series of national hearings where the public got to voice their opinions on media ownership.
The ownership rules in question involve regulations governing the number of newspapers, television and radio stations a company can control in a specific market. Specifically in question are the rules on "newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership," which prevents companies from owning a television or radio station and the major daily newspaper in the same area and a cap of owning more than one television station in markets that have fewer than eight other competitors.
Copps is adamently opposed to media consolidation, stating that such conglomerates breed bad media. Bad media is bad for our democratic society.
The success of democracy is in part dependent upon having a number of diverse, local, independent news organizations to be the "watchdogs" for the public. Media consolidation stifles independent voices and limits public access, leaving increased censorship of divergent views and less coverage of politics and local issues.
Instead of getting hard-hitting, informative, investigative journalism, we get "infotainment." We are inundated with information about Britney, Paris and TomKat. Why? Because it takes no local staffing resources; it can be pulled directly off a news wire and it fills pages.
The public meetings arranged by the FCC, like the one held in Chicago in September, are coming to a close in early November in Seattle. Others were held in Philadelphia, Nashville, Tampa and Los Angeles. A meeting was held in Oakland in October 2006.
FCC Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein, said of the Oakland meeting in a Nov. 5, 2006, San Francisco Chronicle Op-ed piece: "In the Bay Area, I heard concerns about the concentrated newspaper market in which the Hearst Corporation and MediaNews Group Inc. control most of the regional newspapers and the news operations. The MediaNews' San Jose Mercury News has announced staffing cutbacks. Reports say 40 news and editorial staff jobs will be eliminated?."
"The law compels us to listen to these public concerns during the course of the current media ownership proceeding. The FCC sets limits on media ownership that affects every citizen's exposure to news, information and entertainment programming. The laws that govern the FCC say we are to maximize the diversity of viewpoints to which Americans are exposed." (Source: www.fcc.gov/commissioners/adelstein/articles/nov_sf_chronicle_oped.pdf)
Adelstein's fellow commissioner, Copps, acknowledged in Chicago that most Americans are busy with day to day problems and activities but that, "Even if media consolidation is not your No. 1 issue, it ought to be your second big issue," he said. He encouraged the public to "get involved big-time, like your future depends on it, because it does."
You can get involved by researching the topic at www.fcc.gov/ownership/ and voice your opinion by emailing [email protected] or at http://www.fcc.gov/ownership/comments.html.
Don't let independent, objective media become a thing of the past.
Gina Channell-Allen, a 20-year journalism veteran, is the president of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Publishing Company, president of the Pleasanton Weekly and publisher of the Danville Weekly. Send questions to [email protected]