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2006-10-19

Latino, Monitor Groups Say Proposed FCC Rules Limit Media Diversity

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The FCC is currently reconsidering a number of broadcast ownership rules, including whether a single company should be able to own both a newspaper and television station in the same market. A new study conducted by the Media and Democracy Coalition has concluded that the proposed FCC rule changes would reduce local news coverage and eliminate diverse voices and viewpoints. We speak with National Hispanic Media Coalition President Alex Nogales and Consumer Federation of America Research Director Mark Cooper. [includes rush transcript]

This evening, a town hall meeting on diversity and ownership of the Media will be held here in New York. Federal Communication Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein will be in attendance as well as community leaders, media representatives and other citizens concerned about media ownership.

The FCC is currently reconsidering a number of broadcast ownership rules, including whether a single company should be able to own both a newspaper and television station in the same market. A new study conducted by the Media and Democracy Coalition has concluded that the proposed FCC rule changes would reduce local news coverage and eliminate diverse voices and viewpoints.

Mark Cooper is the Research Director of the Consumer Federation of America. His organization participated in the study that is being released later today. He joins me from Washington DC. Here in New York I am joined by Alex Nogales, President of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

  • Mark Cooper. Director of Research, Consumer Federation of America.
  • Alex Nogales. President of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
  • Video excerpts of public testimony at FCC Hearing in Los Angeles earlier this month.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Cooper is the research director of the Consumer Federation of America. His organization participated in the study that’s being released today. He joins me in Washington, D.C. Here in New York, we’re joined by Alex Nogales, the president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

ALEX NOGALES: Thank you.

MARK COOPER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Cooper, lets begin with you. Release the results of your survey here.

MARK COOPER: Well, even in the largest cities in America, such as Los Angeles and New York, the two you mentioned, we find that there are only a small number of newspapers that get most of the readers, and then there’s a handful of TV stations. If you let those entities merge, which is the central rule at stake here, even in those big markets they become dominated by a couple of firms.

But we’ve also looked at smaller markets all across the country, literally from Alaska to Florida, Maine to California, Michigan to Texas. You look at the state capitals — which are important local policy arenas, right? — and you’ll find one dominant newspaper and a couple of TV stations. And so, in those cities what you end up with is almost a one-horse town, where there’s one dominant outlet. And Americans still rely predominantly, for their local news and information, about a school board election, about the police department, they rely predominantly on local TV stations and local newspapers. And so, for the American public who has actually become very much engaged on this issue, as these town hall meetings show and as the proceeding last time showed, for those people, they really do not want, they cannot tolerate this kind of dominance of their local media markets by a single corporation.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Cooper, how does this fit in with the studies that the FCC squelched, now an investigation underway, two of those studies that people within the FCC have somehow gotten out to the press?

MARK COOPER: Well, what those studies showed — and they contradicted Chairman Powell’s belief that it didn’t matter — those studies showed that when you allow consolidation of local media markets, when you allow conglomeration across different types of media, although they didn’t study newspapers, you lose diversity, you lose localism. You get less local news, and you get less viewpoints. And, of course, that is the essential policy here, is to promote local information and local diversity. And so, they did a series of studies. They really thought that if they did the research, it would support their proposed rule. And everything they touched — it’s fascinating — every time they tried to do any analysis, it contradicted what they were trying to do, and that’s why they trash-canned those studies.

AMY GOODMAN: Just a few weeks ago, the FCC held a public hearing in Los Angeles focusing on media ownership. Julian Do was among those who addressed the hearing. He’s a member of New America Media, the largest collaboration of ethnic news organizations in the country.

JULIAN DO: About ten years ago, Los Angeles, by then, was already one of the most diverse cities in America. Ethnic media programs on electronic media has been pretty dismal. Sure, there were Univision cameras, Channel 34, and Telemundo, 52, and a number of Spanish radios, but the growing population of Asian communities, like Chinese, Korean, Filipino and the Middle Eastern communities, has been — has a very limited medias presence. There has always been a hunger for news about local communities. But in a place like LA, we are talking about what’s happening not just in a general audience, but also in the African American communities, what’s happening in the Filipino communities and the Guatemalan community, and so forth. Unfortunately, we are not getting that.

Adding more insult to injuries, when big mainstream media decides to do stories on the Cambodian or the El Salvadorans’ communities, the stories tend to be about crimes or tragedies. Ethnic communities have been for years trying to engage mainstream medias about their communities and also our sources of insights for better reporting. Well, with media consolidation, the situation has become worse. Our frustrations, a number of ethnic groups have resorted to satellite programs. However, not all ethnic households could afford the cost of monthly fees, which often [inaudible] about $50 to $100 a month.

Today, I would say, the situation for a major market like LA has somewhat improved, but for some, and not for the others. There are now five public access Spanish-language TV stations: Univision, Telemundo, KWHY, Azteca TV and Televisa. Spanish-language radio also has a big presence in LA with KLVE, KLAX and KRCD and so on. So, Spanish-language media is very well represented in LA. For other ethnic groups, KSCI, Channel 18, has been a unique multicultural TV station, which offer Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese and Filipino programming. Vietnamese programming has also — has limited access to airtime on KJLA, Channel 44. There are also Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese programs on multilingual radio network in Pasadena and Orange County. But all in all, given the fact that LA has the minority majority demographics, news program in content have not reflected that. This is not just about fairness, but also on the basis of providing comprehensive news about our society.

About two years ago, we had a panel discussion between mainstream and ethnic medias on how do you cover the city like LA, where the population is so diverse. Oftentimes to the extent of covering news stories among ethnic communities, large broadcast medias tend to focus more on the sensational stories, like tragedies and crimes. The conclusion was that, sure, there is no single media entity today that could provide comprehensive news coverage about diverse cities; however, recent media consolidation has made the situation even worse. And all the panelists agreed that by extending adequate airtime to the growing diverse communities, local news would also be enhanced.

While we have seen a great improvement for Spanish-language media and certain Asian communities, there are groups, such as the Middle Eastern communities and the Southeast Asian communities, like the Filipinos, whose numbers nearly 300,000 in LA, have hardly half-an-hour or no — zero — airtime. The Thai, with 70,000, have no TV or radio airtime. And the Cambodians, 50,000, have only two hours, but on cable.

With the limited time left, I want to go straight directly to our recommendations, that we would like to highlight our major points. One, FCC should look into programs to identify very underserved communities to assist them with more airtimes. Media consolidation does affect sustainability of many ethnic broadcast programs, as big media has the advantage of offering economy of scales on one-stop for cheaper and more competitive air rates. And lastly, although there are now many mainstream media broadcast networks offering multilingual programs, there is a big difference when the station is actually owned by a minority operator. It would give the minority broadcast operator a greater chance of being sustainable and also adequate resources to cover issues concerning ethnic communities that are often overlooked or cannot be covered well by large mainstream media. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Julian Do of New America Media, speaking at the FCC hearing in Los Angeles. There were other people there, those who spoke at the hearing from the audience.

AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: The airwaves belong to the people, and I hope you guys decide that the license that you give are a temporary license and they can be taken away when things are not working right. Just think about that. The airwaves are the peoples’, and they are entrusted to the guys that are transmitting, and then it will go away. The second thing, it’s a cultural and educational endeavor, the media. And it’s not more like a business. Those guys were talking the economy of the business. We cannot make business with it, we have to consolidate. If you cannot make business, get out of the business, okay? The third thing, if you go to newspaper stands and you see the difference from different state, every picture in the front page is the same one, just cropped differently. We don’t want that to happen to our media.

AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: In 1773, our founders began this country in part by taking an action and throwing a bunch of tea in the Boston Harbor. This was a reaction against a state-sponsored monopoly, the East India Trading Company. It’s not just because this is what our country is about, is taking — helping the powerless against the powerful, but it’s also what works. California has had recent experience with letting the foxes rule the henhouse, when we allowed energy giants to take over the energy distribution in the state, and the people of California paid dearly for that. We only paid in money and brownouts. The thing that you’re regulating, air — I mean, it sounds like a thing we need to breathe, and it is, but in fact it’s speech and it’s discourse in this country, and if we allow the foxes to take over that — and it’s already happened, and you’re suggesting, I think, we should do it more — it’s quite crazy. If you listen to the people here, there’s no one that said, "Hey, media consolidation, that’s great stuff. Let’s do a lot more of it."

AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: When I was growing up in Virginia, I didn’t even know Latinos existed. Today, living in LA, I am well aware not only that they exist, I’m well aware of their issues and their history. You have done a great job in turning my ignorance around through the media. I also wonder, though, where is the black American? I am a descendant of American slaves. Where is my image? Where are my people’s stories? Where is our reality?

AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: I think we all are in agreement that today U.S. minorities are still underrepresented in the media at large. However, as ironic as it may sound, nowhere this is more true than in the U.S. Spanish TV networks, like Univison and Telemundo. Contrary to public’s perception, for over 40 years Univision and Telemundo have managed to fill their weekly primetime schedules, not with shows that feature U.S. Hispanic actors, but with programs produced offshore in other countries in Latin America. Yes, we are invisible. Univision and Telemundo have gotten away with this precisely because they have never been subject to corporate ownership rules and regulations by the FCC as a network. I urge the FCC to take a closer look at the Spanish networks and Univision and Telemundo and seek remedies to create and foster access and allow the full participation of U.S.-based actors, writers and producers to create original programming in Spanish.

AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: You can either have democracy or you can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. You cannot have both. That’s not the paraphrase. And in this case, the wealth refers to our airwaves. It’s an incredible natural treasure — national treasure, excuse me. And it seems to me the public interest should be balanced on the side of the 300 million of us, rather than the oligarchs and plutarchs and billionaires you can hold in one hand, especially when it comes to a time where our own administration is codifying torture and sanctioning the destruction of the writ of habeas corpus. We need to have more voices in the media to speak about this, rather than less.

AMY GOODMAN: Excerpts of a hearing held two weeks ago in Los Angeles by the FCC. When we come back from break, Alex Nogales will be joining us, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, as well as Mark Cooper, to comment. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: As we talk about media consolidation today, we are joined by Mark Cooper, research director of the Consumer Federation of America in Washington. Here in New York, Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a part of the National Latino Media Council. Alex Nogales, as you listen to these voices from the first FCC hearing — today at Kaye Theater at Hunter College at 6:00 there will be a town hall meeting on media — the critical points now in this new round of media consolidation consideration?

ALEX NOGALES: Well, the citizens have to talk, and we’re all talking very strongly across the nation. We’re all saying the same thing, and that is, that we need to be included. And if we’re not going to be included, we need to know why and we need to make the people answerable that are the ones in charge of the FCC, that are the ones in charge of drafting laws that are going to impact all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: How does it specifically affect the Latino population of this country?

ALEX NOGALES: If we are absent or invisible from the airwaves, we will be treated as invisible people, and Latinos are not being treated very well across the nation right now, especially in English-language media. And what you’re having is a high incidence of hate crimes against Latinos, because, you see, we’re all being lumped into this undocumented category, and in this undocumented category no one can tell the difference between one who is documented or undocumented. And so, we’re being blamed for all the ills of the United States. A little bit unfair, but that’s a reality. And so, we need to, in the local news, have ownership over those entities that program that, or we need to be included to in fact give the other side of the coin, say why we are here, say what it is that is affecting our communities, the dynamics that are going on.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Cooper, how does this round of media consolidation broadcast rules compare to what happened before?

MARK COOPER: Well, this time we’re a lot better prepared in two respects, and I’m going to mention some research that we’ll put in the record on Monday. One, there is a mass movement out there, which grew out of the last round, and it’s clearly in full battle array, so to speak, this time. People are turning up at these public meetings in huge numbers. Comments are flying into the FCC. The second way we are more prepared is we’ve done a lot more research in advance.

And actually, we’ve done some research on minority and gender diversity, and three points are absolutely clear in that research. One, in terms of racial, ethnic, gender diversity, the broadcast media, TV, is one of the worst performing areas of American life. The track record is absolutely miserable. You’re talking about 1% or 2% of the stations being owned by representatives of minority groups and women. Second of all, the concentration of these media markets makes it more difficult for minority owners to have access and to gain control of stations. A lot of the stations that were sold in the last ten years were sold because they relaxed the rules once, so it makes it harder for us to achieve our goal of a more representative media space.

And third — and it’s very interesting, very clear — that minority owners serve their communities better. And these are hard, statistical evidence. These are not just anecdotes. You’ve heard people say that, but this time we’ve got that evidence, and it’s very, very compelling evidence that minorities and gender issues are the most prominent issues. And the court actually said the FCC did a terrible job of addressing these issues last time. They tried to avoid them this time, but those issues are front and center in this debate. And that’s another major change from the last round.

ALEX NOGALES: And I thank you very much for all that research that has been done, Mark. Latinos are now engaged as never before. And we’re engaged because of the fact that we knew that we were being excluded from ownership. We just didn’t know to what extent. So when research comes out and it’s empirical and everybody can see the same thing, that’s when it gets good. Our community now has become so sophisticated that we’ve jumped up on this several years ago now. So now we’re at the table with everyone else, saying this is wrong and we need participation. So, it’s going to be very different than the last hearings.

AMY GOODMAN: And the difference when people are involved?

ALEX NOGALES: The difference, when people are involved, is that we have a voice, and we have a very loud voice. And remember that we are 15% of the U.S. population now, so it isn’t like there’s three Mexicans and one Puerto Rican involved. There’s a lot of people involved.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan Gonzalez, a co-host on Democracy Now!, columnist for the New York Daily News, will also be testifying today at Hunter College. This is open to the public?

ALEX NOGALES: It is open to the public. Everyone is welcome.

AMY GOODMAN: And your major points that you are going to make in your presentation?

ALEX NOGALES: I’m going to be the moderator. So I will be there with several other people that are going to be on those panels. And the main thing is going to be: how is it affecting us to be absent from the table? What are the statistics that tell us? Do we have ownership? Are we participating at any level, and if not, why not? And we have to bring to the fore all those things that are keeping us from there.

Media consolidation in Los Angeles, for instance, has done something that is very interesting. And that is, that in two different instances, two television stations have gone in together and become one. They’ve become one. The anchors are different, but the reporters are one in the same. Then camera people are one in the same. So all they did is cut away more jobs and given it the same news. Now, if you have a Los Angeles Times, a premier newspaper that also is allowed to have these stations, it’s going to be a double problem, because as a former producer, I have to tell you, in Los Angeles that’s the first thing I did. I looked at the Los Angeles Times, and from it, I did my stories on public affairs. So tell me, it stands for reason then, if in fact this consolidation is going on on the local level, to add a newspaper is just going to compound the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both very much for being with us. We will continue to follow this issue and follow the town hall meetings and the FCC hearings, as well. Today, two of the six commissioners will be at this town hall meeting: Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps.

MARK COOPER: The brave ones.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you. Thanks for being with us, Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, also Mark Cooper, director of research, Consumer Federation of America.

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