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2011-07-08

Victory for Media Diversity: Court Strikes Down FCC’s Attempt to Relax Media Ownership Rules

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A federal appeals court has overturned part of a Federal Communications Commission rule that made it easier for a single company, like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., to own a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in a single market. The ruling marks the second time the appeals court has intervened in the commission’s attempts to relax media ownership rules. We speak with Brandy Doyle, policy director for the Prometheus Radio Project, the organization that filed the lawsuit, Prometheus v FCC. "Media consolidation has particularly terrible impacts on ownership by those who are historically disenfranchised in the media system—women, people of color, workers, the poor, and anyone whose voice is not already represented in our media," says Doyle. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to another story related to the Rupert Murdoch media empire. On Thursday, a federal appeals court overturned part of a Federal Communications Commission rule that made it easier for a single company, like Murdoch’s News Corp., to own a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in a single market. The ruling marks the second time the appeals court has intervened in the FCC’s attempts to relax media ownership rules. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps welcomed the court ruling, saying, quote, "This decision is a huge victory for the millions of Americans who have gone on record demanding a richer and more diverse media."

AMY GOODMAN: The lawsuit was filed by the Philadelphia-based organization Prometheus Radio Project. Joining us by Democracy Now! video stream from Washington, D.C., is Brandy Doyle. She is policy director with Prometheus.

Talk about, Brandy, the significance of this court ruling.

BRANDY DOYLE: Sure. This is a major victory, not just for our media, but for our democracy. The court blocked the FCC’s attempt to end a 35-year-old ban on newspaper and broadcast cross-ownership. Cross-ownership is when one company owns the newspaper and a broadcast TV or radio station in the same market. And the ban has been in place for 35 years to ensure that there’s a diversity of voices, viewpoints and accountability in our news media in all of our communities.

And the FCC tried to relax that ban originally in 2003, and Prometheus and many of our ally organizations sued the FCC and spoke out against that. People spoke out all over the country, and we won. And as you know, they tried again in 2007. And thousands of people spoke out at media ownership hearings held by the FCC across the country. Millions of people filed comments and raised their voice against this. And yesterday, the Third Circuit Court in Philadelphia agreed with the thousands of people that testified and the millions that commented that what the FCC did was undemocratic and the process that they did it with was undemocratic. And so, it’s a major victory for media diversity.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Brandy, in the decision, in this most recent decision, as in the decision in 2004, the appeals court specifically criticized the FCC for failing to take into account the impact of the proposed rules on minority ownership and ownership of broadcast companies by women, as well. Could you talk about that and the importance of that in terms of this issue of a diverse and democratic media system?

BRANDY DOYLE: Sure. Media consolidation has particularly terrible impacts on ownership by those who are historically disenfranchised in our media system—women, people of color, workers, the poor, and anyone whose voice is not already represented in our media. Consolidation makes it harder for those voices to be heard, and fewer and fewer companies own a greater and greater share of the news media and control the information that we get and the way we understand our world. So, the court looked at the FCC’s handling of issues around women and people of color and determined that the FCC had failed to take those issues into account well in their rule making. And the FCC has to go back to the drawing board now in how to make sure that there’s a diversity of voices for all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Brandy, talk about the role of people around this country weighing in, what that means. And did it affect this court decision, do you think?

BRANDY DOYLE: It did affect the court decision. And the court specifically referenced the FCC’s failure to listen to the millions of voices that were raised against this. People around the country understand what’s happening in our media system. People are outraged about today’s—the Newsweek story with Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. And, you know, there’s so many issues. The news media has an impact on our political system, on how we think about going to war, how we think about our elected leaders, and how we hold them accountable. And these issues are so vital, and they’re so critical. And so, it’s not just that people care about our media system, it’s that they care about all the issues facing our world today, and the media is really how we understand those issues.

So people spoke out again and again and again, and 99 percent of the comments that the FCC received were opposing media consolidation, and yet they moved forward anyway in trying to find a new way to deregulate our media system to allow these companies to merge, which creates greater efficiencies, but hurts our democracy. And the court recognized that. They recognize that the FCC failed to give the public an appropriate way to have input on the decision-making process, that they didn’t allow the public to help shape the rules. So, not only did the court rule that we have a right to media diversity, the court also ruled that we have a right to help shape the rules that impact our media system.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And finally, Brandy, one of the interesting points is that this decision on relaxing these rules was—as I recall, it was the last decision that was made by the FCC under the Bush administration, under Kevin Martin, who succeeded Michael Powell as chairman of the FCC. Do you have any sense how the new FCC, under the Obama administration, will begin to address, because now it’s going to be thrown back in their laps, what to do about cross-ownership of radio and—of broadcast and newspapers, how they will deal with this issue?

BRANDY DOYLE: Well, we’ll have to see. I mean, their media ownership review, that’s mandated by Congress, is coming up. And so, they have an opportunity to either push again to weaken the rules around media or to strengthen them. And so, we’ll have to see what the current FCC is willing to do. But it’s worth noting that we have to continue holding them accountable. Even under a Democratic administration, there’s no particular guarantee that the FCC is going to move in the direction for stronger media ownership rules. And, you know, these media companies have such impunity. I mean, one interesting connection to the earlier story on today’s program is that Rupert Murdoch has a permanent waiver on the cross-ownership ban in New York, which allows News Corp. to own both the New York Post and WNYW. And so, you know, as you all have been talking about earlier in the program, there’s such impunity for these giant media corporations, and it really takes all of us raising our voices to the FCC, to Congress, loud and clear, to be able to weigh in on these processes.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Brandy, we want to thank you very much for being with us. Brandy Doyle is policy director at the Prometheus Radio Project, speaking to us from Washington, D.C.

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