FCC to Vote on Use of Public Airwaves for Rural America

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is making an important vote next week on the use of open spectrum available through the conversion to digital television. Corporations don’t want that spectrum to be used for the public benefit, but citizens groups think it could be used to bring the Internet to rural communities.

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With the bulk of media attention on the last week of the presidential elections, almost no reporting has been done about a very important vote the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will make next week.

In February of 2009, when the digital conversion takes place for TV, there will be lots of open spectrum available for public use, particularly in rural communities. All across the United States, there are communities that do not have access to high speed Internet. One possibility for more of rural America to gain access to the Internet would be to provide broadband Internet access by using the available digital spectrum that will be available once the digital conversion takes place.

Companies like Comcast and AT&T leave out many rural communities, because they are not considered “profitable.” Utilizing the spectrum that is unused in many rural communities, digital space that is referred to as “white space,” could provide those communities with an important and viable service. However, the very companies who don’t want to service rural communities also don’t want the available TV spectrum to be used to serve the public.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the powerful lobbying entity for broadcasters nationwide, is hoping to get the FCC to vote against opening the TV spectrum for public use.

Fortunately the Main Street Project, Center for Rural Strategies, the

Mountain Area Information Network, and Free Press have joined forces to pressure the FCC to vote in favor of greater access to the media for the public.

You can let your voice be heard by contacting the FCC before their November 4 vote and tell them that making the TV spectrum known as white space available for public use would greatly benefit rural America. You can send an e-mail to your members of Congress by going to an online media alert put together by Free Press.

Rep. Ehlers Targeted with Petitions against Big Media

On Wednesday, several community members delivered a petition to area congressional representative Vern Ehlers to persuade him to oppose loosening restrictions on media ownership.

Several Grand Rapids residents delivered several pages of signed petitions on Wednesday to Congressman Vern Ehlers’ office demanding that he support a House Resolution (H.J. Res. 79) that would overturn a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow media companies to control more media outlets.

Last December, the FCC approved sweeping new changes to the United States’ media ownership rules that would open the door for further media consolidation in nearly every community across the country. The FCC voted to lift the 30-year “newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban” that prohibits a company from owning a newspaper and a broadcast station in one area.

In March, Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) introduced a bipartisan bill, the “Resolution of Disapproval” (H.J.Res. 79) to overturn the FCC’s big giveaway to big media. The Senate already passed its version of this bill in a near-unanimous vote after more than 250,000 people wrote and called their elected officials through a campaign organized by the national media reform group Free Press.

Today’s petition delivery to Congressman Ehlers’ office was facilitated by Free Press and their advocacy group “Stop Big Media” Those who delivered the petitions stated that they were opposed to the FCC decision because “it limits the amount of voices that the public will hear in media.” Another person expressed that further media ownership consolidation means that “less emphasis will be put on local news and that the further downsizing of newsrooms will mean less investigative reporting on important issues like elections, war, the environment, and economic issues.”

Ehlers Remains Uncommitted on Media Ownership Consolidation

West Michigan Representative Vern Ehlers remains uncommitted on media ownership consolidation and thus far has taken no position on a proposal aimed at preventing further media consolidation.

For years, there has been an effort by media corporations to change the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules on ownership. Media companies want to own more of the airwaves, cable, print and telecommunications systems in this country. The FCC proposed last fall to change the ownership rules, deciding in favor of big media companies to allow them to own more broadcast outlets in the same market and to allow for the first time ownership of daily newspapers and TV/radio stations in the same community.

The national media reform group Free Press organized a campaign to get the Congress to challenge this FCC decision and was able to get 250,000 people to lobby the US Senate to reject the FCC ruling. Now, Free Press is working to get the US House of Representatives to do the same by calling on the public to contact their representatives to support HR. J. Res. 79 which is a House version of the Senate Resolution passed in May.

We contacted Representative Vern Ehlers’ office on this matter and here is the vague response they gave us:

“The FCC recently made several changes to long-standing media ownership rules. The FCC eased restrictions on media cross-ownership between newspaper, TV, and radio stations in the country’s 20 largest media markets. This decision also allows mergers in other markets under certain circumstances.

Supporters of the change argue that the old rules were overly restrictive and no longer reflective of the number of sources of media and news coverage available to consumers. However, while I know that there are many more media outlets now than when the rules were originally written, I am still concerned that these rules will stifle competition and reduce diversity of programming and news sources. It is important that West Michigan residents should not be limited to getting their news and information from only one or two sources.

Legislation has been introduced in the House (H.J.Res. 79), which disapproves of the FCC’s rule and declares that the rule shall have no force or effect. The House has not yet considered this resolution. It has been referred to the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet for consideration. The Senate passed a similar resolution (S.J.Res 28) by voice vote.

I will continue to monitor how these rules affect my constituents inWest Michigan, and will keep your views in mind.”

We encourage everyone to contact your representatives and ask them to support House Resolution 79. You can send an electronic letter by using the Stop Big Media campaign action alert system. They are hoping to get 100 co-sponsors signed onto this resolution by the time Congress comes back from their ummer break.

Senate Votes Against Further Media Consolidation

Back in March, the Mediamouse.org affiliated Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) issued a media alert asking people to contact their legislators about a resolution that would overturn a December 2007 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling that allowed further consolidation of the media. In a rare victory, last night the Senate cast a near unanimous vote to block the FCC’s decision.

Free Press, the group organizing much of the opposition to the FCC’s vote, issued the following statement:

“Today’s historic Senate vote is a resounding victory for the vast majority of Americans who oppose media consolidation. We applaud the bipartisan leadership of Senators Dorgan and Snowe for acting in the public interest. But to stop Big Media from polluting our local airwaves with more junk journalism and propaganda, we need the House to move this legislation forward quickly.

“At this watershed moment, public outrage against Big Media has reached a breaking point. The Bush administration’s threats to undercut this bipartisan effort in Congress show how out of touch this president is with the will of the American people. But we’re not going to stand idly by and let the White House green light Big Media’s expansion. The great pendulum of political change is swinging away from corrosive consolidation and toward better media.”

As always, it’s important to remember that these media policy victories are only part of the battle–we still need to work hard to create independent forms of media that exist outside of the corporate media.

Local TV Stations don’t want to Adopt New FCC Rules

In 2005, the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) organized a campaign to educate people about the License Renewal process that radio and TV station must go through every eight years in order to use the public airwaves. We told you how stations only have to pay $75 to renew their license with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and how limited their obligations are to the public. Now the local TV stations are fighting new FCC requirements.

According to a new media alert from the group Stop Big Media, the FCC has voted to make TV stations more accountable to their viewers by disclosing basic information about the ways they serve the public.

The new rules will help you monitor the media and make your voice heard. They require stations to form community advisory boards and have someone in the studio at all times for public safety alerts.

In addition, stations would have to post information on station ownership, educational and community programming, and public complaints on their Web sites. This information helps communities’ pressure stations to improve their programming — and even challenge their licenses at the FCC if they’re not meeting local needs.

Big Media’s lawyers and lobbyists are fighting rules like these. They are telling the FCC that no one cares about how their stations do business.

Prove the lobbyists wrong: tell the FCC you care about local media by participating in this campaign. Click here to send a message to the FCC.

Stop Big Media from Getting Bigger

A few days ago Sen. Byron Dorgan introduced a bill (SJ Res. 28) in the Senate that would overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) disastrous December vote to gut media ownership rules. But there is a catch. The bill will expire unless it is passed in 60 legislative days.

The national media reform group Free Press is asking people to send e-mails to their Senators to tell them that media consolidation is bad for local communities, that it limits opinions and perspectives, and that it is anti-democratic. The activist branch of Free Press, StopBigMedia.com also has this to say about how the public stopped the media giveaway in 2003:

“In 2003, when the FCC tried to do away with all media ownership rules, nearly 3 million people took action, writing their members of Congress, telling their friends and organizing their communities to speak out on this important issue. With that kind of momentum, lawmakers had no choice but to listen. The Senate voted to overturn the FCC decision, before the courts tossed them out altogether.”

“The situation isn’t going to repair itself,” proclaimed Commissioner Copps on the day of the FCC vote last December. “Big media is not going to repair it. This Commission is not going to repair it. But the people, their elected representatives, and attentive courts can repair it. Last time the Commission went down this road, the majority heard and felt the outrage of millions of citizens and Congress and then the court. … Last time a lot of insiders were surprised by the country’s reaction. This time they should be forewarned.”

Send an Email to your Senators

FCC Approves Further Media Consolidation

Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to allow further media consolidation. In a 3-2 vote, the FCC voted to allow media corporations in the twenty largest markets to own both a newspaper and a television or radio station.

stop big media graphic

Yesterday, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) voted in favor of new media ownership rules. The rules passed by a 3-2 margin, with the FCC’s three Republicans voting in favor of the rule change and the two Democrats opposing the change.

Under the new rules, media companies in the twenty largest media markets will be able to own both a newspaper and a radio or television station. Additionally, companies outside of those markets can apply for a waiver allowing them to bypass cross-ownership rules, although they will have to prove the cross-ownership is in the “public interest.” Some large media corporations–such as NewsCorp–already have similar waivers. The previous ban on cross-ownership was enacted in 1975 by the FCC to serve “the twin goals of diversity of viewpoints and economic competition.”

In advance of the vote, the rule change had been challenged both on a substantive and procedural level. Media reform activists argued that the rules would lessen diversity in media. According the media reform group Free Press, 100,000 people contacted Congress and the FCC to oppose the rule change. At public hearings–often with only two weeks notice–thousands testified against the change. Additionally, the FCC’s process has been challenged because of the FCC’s links to media industry lobbyists, inadequate public comment time, and failure to provide adequate notice of public hearings.

Free Press–one of the groups organizing against the rule change–is now calling on people to send a letter to Congress demanding that the rule change be over turned. When the FCC last lessened ownership regulations in 2003, Congress opposed the move and it was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court. Moreover, on Friday, 26 Senators sent a letter to FCC chair Kevin Martin opposing the rule change and pledging to “immediately move legislation that will revoke and nullify the proposed rule.”

Take Action before December 18 to Stop Big Media

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC)–led by chair Kevin Martin–is continuing to push for new media ownership rules that would benefit large media corporations by allowing them to own and control even more of the media in the United States.

stop big media logo

Big media companies want to get bigger and Federal Communication Commission chair Kevin Martin wants to help them. For the past 18 months there has been a proposal to allow media companies to own more in individual media markets. FCC chair Kevin Martin first laid out such plans in June of 2006 and continues to be willing to push forward what media conglomerates want. Fortunately, Martin’s relationship to big media has become increasingly scrutinized.

It was reported in the Los Angeles Times recently that Martin is “facing a congressional inquiry into the FCC’s procedures and allegations of flawed research studies, suppressing data, ignoring public input and holding hearings with minimal notice.” Martin was questioned at a December 5 hearing held in the House of Representatives with “Democrats accusing Mr. Martin of rushing through changes without giving the public sufficient opportunity to comment on his plans.” Rep. John Dingell (D. MI) said, “The victim in this breakdown at the agency is a fair, open, and transparent regulatory process. The real loser, of course, is the public interest and the American consumer.” However, Republicans have said that Martin’s proposal on loosening media ownership rules “didn’t go far enough.”

An educational and organizing effort by Free Press has not only stalled the effort to ram through Martin’s proposal, but they were also able to work with the grassroots organization Reclaim the Media to turn out 1,100 people at a hearing in Seattle to tell the FCC that they want no more media ownership consolidation. One issue that activists have been raising about media consolidation is that the first media outlets to get gobbled up are primarily minority and female owned, which are already disgustingly low in number. In a recent online article Free Press stated:

“Overall, nearly 90 percent of minority-owned stations are not ranked among the top four in their respective markets. If the ban is lifted, minority-owned stations will be targeted by newspaper owners seeking to purchase a station. And increased consolidation will only decrease opportunities for people of color to enter the market and purchase stations of their own.”

Now Free Press is mounting a campaign to pressure both the FCC and Congress to not allow the proposed changes to the FCC media ownership rules. They have an online petition to Congress asking that they pass the Media Ownership Act of 2007 before December 18. Here is the text of that petition:

I am writing to urge you to support S 2332, the “The Media Ownership Act of 2007.” This legislation will ensure that the Federal Communications Commission addresses the dismal state of female and minority ownership before changing any rules to unleash more media concentration.

Nearly 99 percent of the public comments received by the FCC oppose changing the nation’s media ownership rules to allow a handful of large conglomerates to swallow up more local media outlets. Congress rejected the same changes to the rules in 2003. Yet the FCC is still pushing a plan to overhaul the rules by the end of the year.

This legislation would mandate that the FCC give the public 90 days’ notice before holding a vote on new rules to ensure a full public accounting of the impact of media consolidation before changing the ownership limits. These steps are necessary to preserve diverse local media that meets the needs of our communities.

Diversity is the cornerstone of a democratic media system. Yet research by Free Press found that that while minorities make up 33 percent of the U.S. population, they own less than 8 percent of radio stations and 3 percent of TV stations.

This legislation would create an independent task force to address the crisis in minority media ownership.

Our democracy requires the free flow of local information from diverse voices. Please support the “The Media Ownership Act of 2007.”

Free Press is encouraging people to sign this online petition, to join their “Wall campaign” to take a stand for better public media , and to get others to join in.

FCC Trying to Loosen Media Ownership Regulations

FCC chairman Kevin Martin has proposed changes to the FCC’s ownership rules that would place less restrictions on media companies’ ability to own a newspaer and a television or radio station in twenty of the United States’ top media markets.

stop big media graphic

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is attempting to loosen media ownership rules by offering a proposal to weaken the FCC’s ban on cross-ownership. Under rule changes being proposed by the FCC, media companies in the nation’s top 20 markets would be allowed to own a newspaper and television or radio station, something that is currently not allowed. The proposal is opposed by two FCC commissioners but is favored by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and has been endorsed by billionaires with financial interests in the media industry including Rupert Murdoch and Samuel Zell.

Martin is attempting to alter a 1975 ruling by the FCC that prohibits a company from owning a newspaper and television station in the same market. In 2003 then chairman Michael Powell proposed a similar rule change, although they were defeated in Court and by Congress. The public watchdog Common Cause has said that Martin’s change are “eerily similar” to the proposed 2003 changes despite widespread public–and ultimately legal–opposition. Martin’s changes would allow a media company to own both a newspaper and either a radio or television station in the country’s twenty largest markets, which account for more than 43% of U.S. households.

Martin has rushed a vote on the issue–scheduling a vote on December 18–despite the fact that the FCC has not reviewed recommendations from 44 outside organizations. The FCC has also not finished a study on how the rule change would affect local media ownership. The December 18 hearing allowed only 19 days for public comment with a public comment period that ends on December 11. Free Press’s Stopbigmedia.com coalition is calling on people to write letters opposing the FCC’s proposed change and calling for greater Congressional oversight of the FCC.

According to the media activist group Free Press, Martin’s “relatively minor” rule changes are anything but minor. In a report titled “Devil in the Details: 10 Facts Kevin Martin Doesn’t Want You to Know About his New Media Ownership Rules” the organization outlines ten key areas left out of Martin’s push for the rule change. These include:

“FACT #1: Martin’s ‘modest’ proposal is corporate welfare for Big Media. Martin’s plan would unleash a buying spree in the top 20 markets, making it easier for companies like Belo, News Corp. and Tribune Co. to push out independent, local owners.

FACT #2: Loopholes open the door to cross-ownership in any market. Under Martin’s loose standards, cross-ownership waivers could be approved in hundreds of smaller cities and towns.

FACT #3: Loopholes allow newspapers to own TV stations of any size. The same technicalities could permit top-rated stations in any market to combine with major newspapers.

FACT #4: FCC history shows weak standards won’t protect the public. The current rules forbid cross-ownership, but the FCC hasn’t denied any temporary waiver request in years.

FACT #5: Cross-ownership doesn’t create more local news. The latest studies — using the FCC’s own data — show that markets with cross-ownership produce less total local news, as one dominant company crowds out the competition.

FACT #6: Cross-ownership won’t solve newspapers’ financial woes. Claims that the newspaper industry is about to “wither and die” are greatly exaggerated, and no evidence shows that cross-ownership would make things better.

FACT # 7: The Internet is an opportunity, not a death sentence. Mergers and consolidation are not the answer to the financial problems of the traditional media.

FACT #8: Martin’s plan would harm minority media owners. Nearly half of the nation’s minority-owned TV stations are lower-rated outlets in the top 20 markets, making them a target for Big Media takeovers.

FACT # 9: A broken and corrupt process creates bad policies. The FCC’s lack of transparency, flawed research and secret timetable have tossed aside basic fairness and accountability in the rush to change media ownership rules.

FACT # 10: The public doesn’t want more media consolidation. Martin’s actions ignore the millions of Americans — and 99 percent of the comments in the FCC docket — who oppose letting a few media giants swallow up more local media.”

Martin’s push for more consolidation comes despite the fact that there is a significant lack of diversity of media ownership in the United States. Women and people of color comprise two-thirds of the population but own only one-sixth of commercial radio and TV stations. Free Press further document this in a report titled “Out of the Picture 2007: Minority & Female TV Ownership in the United States.” The organization has also argued that cross-ownership would produce less local news leading “other stations in the market to collectively curtail their news output by about 25 percent.”

In West Michigan, the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID)–a part of Media Mouse–maintains an online resource called “Who Owns the Local Media in Grand Rapids.” GRIID has documented that media companies such as Clear Channel, Regent Broadcasting, Gannett, and LIN TV own much of the local media. Independent media sources are rare and the concerns raised above about diversity of media ownership by Free Press are very real in Grand Rapids.

Imus is just a symptom of a bigger problem

“You have made of radio a laughing stock to intelligence….you have cut time into tiny segments called spots (more rightly stains) where with the occasional fine program is periodically smeared with impudent insistence to buy and try.”

Lee de Forest – inventor of the vacuum tube for radio – addressing the National Association of Broadcasters in 1946

By the time you read this article the Don Imus story will no doubt be long gone. Why not, CBS did can his butt, so end of story, right? Well, it seems to me that the “national discussion” that took place during the whole shock jock scandal was quite limited, so lets recap a bit and see where else we can go with this issue.

Don Imus called the Rutgers Women’s basketball team “nappy headed hos.” Some people said he simply made a mistake. According to Black Scholar Ishmael Reed, writing on Imus and racism over a year ago, the Imus show used racism as its bread and butter. Even 60 Minutes (airs on CBS) did a show on this “shock jock” where they were told that “Bernard McGirk, the man, who, according to 60 Minutes, Imus hired to do “nigger jokes,” doing a lame imitation of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, using a plantation type dialect.” The national media watchdog group FAIR has also documented racist diatribes on the Imus show over the years. “Imus called Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz a “boner-nosed… beanie-wearing Jewboy,” referred to a disabled colleague as “the cripple,” and to an Indian men’s tennis duo as “Gunga Din and Sambo.” In Imus’ words, the New York Knicks are “chest-thumping pimps.”

Some of the “national debate” quickly turned to criticism of rap lyrics that also demean women and minorities, so why not censor that from the airwaves? Why stop there? Imus is not the only radio talk show host who uses racist or sexist language. The list of radio personalities that do this on a daily basis is quite long. But lets just look at some of the syndicated talk radio people one might hear in West Michigan. Tune into WOOD radio on any weekday and you will likely hear some offensive language from people like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and Laura Ingraham. Remember what Rush said about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donavan McNabb? Another example was when Rush made fun of the NAACP by saying “The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.” On the other hand, Michael Savage makes Rush look like an altar boy. Savage has built his fame off of racist and homophobic diatribes. In 2000 he said:

“With the [Latino] population that has emerged, since they breed like rabbits, in many cases the whites will become a minority in their own nation… The white people don’t breed as often for whatever reason. I guess many homosexuals are involved. That is also part of the grand plan, to push homosexuality to cut down on the white race.”

I don’t hear anyone locally calling for a boycott of WOOD radio…although it’s not a bad idea.

The problem however, isn’t just limited to the comments of Imus, Savage and company. There are deeper problems with media that “allows” this type of speech to be broadcast. One major problem that has not really been addressed in the “national debate” has to do with whom we don’t hear on radio or TV. There is a clear absence of minority and female voices in radio. If you want to hear women or minorities on radio you are limited to some NPR programs or local stations that focus on audiences that major media has ignored. There are Spanish language radio stations locally and you can listen to African American radio talk show personalities like Tyronne Bynum and Robert S., but these shows are specifically targeted to Urban Black and Latino listeners. WOOD radio would claim they broadcast to a broader audience, when in fact they are primarily interested in a White audience, particularly White people with money. This is the case with most radio stations even though they like to promote themselves as lite rock, Christian, classic rock, eclectic, pop, or country, but in the end we should just call them what they are…White radio stations.

Television, particularly TV news is much worse. Minority and female voices have been limited in news stories. For women, being a news source is quite often gender specific, meaning that women’s voices are sought out when it is a “women’s issue” like shopping or domestic violence. When it comes to stories on the economy, politics, the environment, education, and foreign policy then women’s voices are less frequent. The same is the case for minority voices on TV news. If the story is about racism or culture then you’ll hear a minority voice. In other words, minority voices are typecast, limited to race-specific stories and not broader issues. But the biggest aspect of the Don Imus “scandal” that has not been addressed has to do more with media ownership and media policy.

Why was a show like Imus in the Morning or shows with Sean Hannity and Michael Savage so well known? With the increasing consolidation of radio ownership it was much cheaper for radio companies to air syndicated shows instead of locally produced programs. If the same show airs in dozens of media markets radio companies can offer better advertising packages to fill in those radio spots, as Lee de Forest called them in 1946. Radio companies can also downsize their workforce. If you are doing little or no local programming you don’t need the same amount of staff. Syndicated programs also work because they don’t allow for as much interaction as a local radio show, thus limiting the involvement of local communities. Big media companies are primarily interested in ratings, not serving the public interest, so of course syndicated talk show idiots like Don Imus are welcomed programming that will capture a primarily White audience with money. This is what is called institutional racism and is much more devastating than racial slurs. Don’t get me wrong, I am quite repulsed by most radio and TV commentators, but pulling the plug on shows like Imus will not solve the problem alone.

So, while the “national debate” about Imus and rap lyrics continue big media is trying to push through new regulations on media ownership. Major media corporations, in conjunction with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are hoping to further de-regulated media ownership rules that would allow big companies to own even more of the radio, TV, cable and phone companies in our community. You say that you haven’t heard about this? Exactly, it is not in the best interest of media companies to run news stories on this issue even though right now the FCC is allowing public comment on media ownership. You can participate in this important debate by going to the website Stop Big Media. There you will find resources and action steps to stop big media from owning more of the public airwaves. If we don’t act on this issue we will be inundated with more and more of the same kind of programming, the kind that brought us programming like Imus. If we want a diversity of voices and local voices, then we need to change the media system not just censor programs that are a creation of this media system.