Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism
FCC Ready to Roll Back Limits on Media Consolidation
December 5, 2002
A range of media scholars and public interest, media and community groups
from across the country have joined FAIR in issuing a Call for Media
Democracy in response to the FCC's current "review" of the rules that
govern big media.
FAIR encourages everyone concerned with this issue to act now. Some
suggestions of how you can take action to strengthen media diversity are
A Call for Media Democracy
As the country reels from some of the biggest business scandals in U.S.
history, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is getting ready to
give big media a big gift-- the rollback of some of the last regulatory
checks on media consolidation.
As part of its 2002 Biennial Review, the FCC is "reconsidering" many of
the rules that have preserved at least some vestige of media diversity.
FCC Chair Michael Powell's pro-business bias has made it seem like the
elimination of these rules is a foregone conclusion, but it doesn't have
People across the country, from grassroots activists to members of
Congress, are raising their voices to stop the FCC's rush to open the
floodgates to another wave of media mergers. Among the public interest
protections under threat:
-- Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule. Prevents the owners of a
broadcast station from owning daily newspapers in the same market, and
-- National Broadcast Ownership Cap. Is meant to prevent one company from
owning broadcast stations that reach more than 35 percent of U.S.
households. The courts have asked the FCC to provide a fuller
justification of the rule, but the FCC seems ready to give it up.
-- Local Radio Ownership Rule. Caps the number of radio stations a company
can own in a single listening area to eight or less, depending on the
-- Duopoly Rule. Limits a company to owning two broadcast TV stations in a
-- Dual Network Rule. Bars the major TV networks-- ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC--
from merging with each other.
If these rules are scrapped, big media's gain will be the public's loss.
For example, without the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban, many
communities may find their only local daily paper has been bought by one
of the TV networks. It's not hard to imagine the drop in news quality if
newspapers are absorbed by the broadcast TV industry.
Chain ownership of newspapers, television and radio stations would likely
increase dramatically, with all-too-familiar consequences: layoffs as
formerly independent news divisions merge, less original content and even
further cuts in local affairs coverage.
Commercial broadcasting has gone through stunning negative changes in
recent years, as deregulation and consolidation have shifted the balance
of power to a small handful of companies with interests and investments
spread across the media landscape. We now live in a world dominated by
profit-driven media conglomerates more interested in delivering viewers to
advertisers than in serving the needs of the public.
Dissenting political viewpoints are routinely marginalized in national
mainstream media, and the interests and perspectives of women, people of
color, labor, and lesbians, gays and bisexuals are consistently
underrepresented. Across the country, broadcast public affairs programs
that address local concerns are almost non-existent; many communities
can't even expect any coverage of their local elections on TV.
Independent, critical and genuinely representative media are crucial to a
healthy democracy; without them, citizens lose the means to control and
participate in the public debate that sets the nation's political agenda.
Sadly, this is already happening: In the absence of an effective
regulatory agency, corporate control of the media is damaging our
This country's airwaves belong to the American people, and the FCC is
supposed to manage them in the public interest. Unfortunately, the current
FCC leadership seems hostile to this very concept. Asked to explain his
understanding of the public interest, Chairman Powell once replied that he
had "no idea" what it meant.
That's why it's so important that the FCC put the brakes on its hasty
review and encourage a real debate-- one that engages the public and
public advocacy groups, not just industry "experts."
We urge the FCC and Congress to take a stand for democracy, to preserve
and strengthen the rules that limit media consolidation, and to promote
public access to media. We urge our fellow citizens to file comments with
the FCC about its Biennial Review, to write to their Congressional
representatives, and to organize public awareness campaigns in their
communities. It's time for a real debate.
FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting); Association of Independent Video
& Filmmakers (AIVF); Cascadia Media Alliance; Chicago Media Watch;
Citizens for Media Literacy; Global Exchange; Grand Rapids Institute for
Information Democracy (GRIID); Media Alliance; Media Tank; Mountain Area
Information Network; National Organization for Women (NOW), national
organization and California chapter; The Newspaper Guild-CWA; Our Media
Voice; Paper Tiger; Project on Media Ownership (PROMO); Prometheus Radio
Project; Rocky Mountain Media Watch.
Individuals (Affiliations for identification only):
Robin Andersen, Communication and Media Studies Professor, Fordham
University; Noam Chomsky, Professor of Linguistics, Massachusetts
Institute of Technology; Michael Eisenmenger, Media JumpStart; Douglas
Gomery, Professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of
Maryland; DeeDee Halleck, Professor Emerita, University of California, San
Diego; Edward Herman, Professor Emeritus, Wharton School, University of
Pennsylvania; Jean Kilbourne, Visiting Research Scholar, Wellesley Centers
for Women; Robert W. McChesney, Professor of Communication, University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; John Nichols, The Nation and Madison Capital
Times; Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director, Center for Economic Policy Research
Let the FCC and Congress know that you want the rules that limit media
consolidation to be preserved and strengthened, not weakened.
1. File a comment with the FCC. The Center for Digital Democracy has a
form that simplifies the process:
2. Write to your elected officials. You can look up the name and contact
information of your Congressional and Senate representatives by entering
your zip code at:
As always, please remember that your comments are taken more seriously if
you maintain a polite tone. Please cc firstname.lastname@example.org with your
Please support FAIR by subscribing to our bimonthly magazine, Extra! For more information, go to: http://www.fair.org/.../subscribe.html . Or call 1-800-847-3993.
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