The Senate has begun to reverse the FCC’s vote to relax media concentration rules, but the legislation faces an uphill battle in the House.
*DEMOCRACY NOW!, June 20, 2003 — *The Senate Commerce Committee yesterday voted to prevent the nation’s largest media conglomerates from growing even larger. The Senate legislation would reverse a vote the Federal Communication Commission took just two and a half weeks ago, to relax or scrap the government’s media ownership rules.
"It’s an historic victory because for the first time in decades, we’ve been able to give such a stinging defeat" to big media corporations, said Jeff Chester from the Center for Digital Democracy. More importantly, we broke through the wall of silence here on this issue. The public spoke out loudly as the voice of conscience."
Specifically, under the Senate legislation, media conglomerates would not be allowed to own television stations that reach nearly half the nation’s viewers, after all. Nor would corporations be allowed to own a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same city.
While public interest groups called yesterday’s decision, they cautioned that the battle is far from over. The Center for Digital Democracy’s Chester said that, in addition to the grassroots campaign to reverse the June 2 FCC ruling, some media industry lobby groups and associations played a positive role in the Senate committee’s ruling.
"To be honest with you, the public interest groups built the victory on the back of the National Association of Broadcasting lobby," Chester told Democracy Now!. "It turns out that the smaller station groups, big media companies like Gannett and Hearst didn’t like the idea that the four broadcast networks would be able to buy more stations and squeeze them out.
"So in fact it was the national association of broadcasters and powerful station groups that lobbied the senate commerce committee to reverse the F.C.C. decision on how many stations the broadcast networks can own," Chester said.
In addition, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman, Republican John McCain, narrowly won a vote to require companies that are over the new FCC radio ownership limits, including Clear Channel Communications, to sell stations after one year.
And, the bill would require the FCC to hold at least five public hearings on future ownership rule changes before voting.
The quick Senate action was a clear a rebuke to FCC Chair Michael Powell, son of Secretary of State General Colin Powell. Michael Powell pushed hard to relax the media ownership rules, and refused to make any serious attempt to involve the public on the issue. But he thoroughly consulted industry lobbyists. The non-partisan Center for Public Integrity found that FCC officials met with top broadcasters behind closed doors more than 70 times to discuss the rule changes.
The public was not to be silenced. Activists organized hearings and press conferences all over the country. Members of the National Rifle Association sent in three hundred thousand postcards. The Washington Post reported the FCC received more than 9,000 email comments through its website, and of those, only 11 were in favor of the changes. The activist group Moveon.org collected 170,000 signatures on a petition. Common Cause launched a $250,000 ad campaign, and placed ads in The Washington Post and The New York Times. And Senators began to speak out.
The legislation will now go to a full senate vote. It faces an uphill battle in the House. On Democracy Now! today, Chester called on people concerned about media freedom to stay the course in the fight against big media monopolies.
"If the listeners and all of our supporters stick together over the next few months to build on this historic victory that they achieved then I think we have good chance of passing this in the senate," says Chester. "Either Bush allows an up or down vote on media ownership or it becomes a potential campaign issue in the presidential race."
Guest appearing in this segment:
- Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy