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Media Consolidation: A primer on making your opinion heard

By Rick KarrRick Karr by Robin Holland

Media laws and regulations are complex. And the process that establishes them is positively byzantine – a complex dance that involves not only the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but also Congress, the White House, courts, cabinet-level departments, and other agencies, as well.

So here's a primer on how to tell the powers that be what you think about the current controversy over media consolidation that we cover on this week's JOURNAL:

(Photo: Robin Holland)

The first steps are likely to be taken by the FCC. Its chairman, Kevin J. Martin, has proposed changing what's known as the ”Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule” (pdf) – in other words, he wants to let newspapers buy radio and TV stations in the cities where they're published.

Martin argues that the change would only affect the country's 20 largest urban areas, but his Democratic colleagues on the FCC disagree (pdf). Martin has set a deadline of Dec. 11 for public comments; sources in Washington tell us that the FCC is likely to vote a week later, on Dec. 18.

You can file a comment with the FCC online. Click on the circle next to "Media Ownership Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking - Docket 06-121," then click "Continue" at the bottom of the page. You can also send comments straight to each of the five commissioners – or the FCC as a whole – via email, phone, fax, or mail. If you choose one of those routes, make sure you mention that you're commenting on "Docket 06-121" - the bureaucracy's name for Martin's proposal.

Congress is getting involved, too. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) have introduced The Media Ownership Act of 2007, which would delay the FCC vote on Martin's proposal and require the Commission to examine how local communities have been affected by media consolidation. You can find out how to contact your Senators here.

At the FCC hearing in Seattle – which we cover on this week's Journal – Commissioner Michael J. Copps offered one more suggestion: Go straight to the top and let the White House know what you think.

This debate may drag on for months. Martin's agenda has taken flack from Democrats and Republicans alike. Some media firms say it doesn't go far enough. The last time the FCC voted to loosen ownership rules, in 2003, both the Senate and the federal courts got involved.

So keep watching THE JOURNAL, because we'll follow the story.


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I think that we should pull back are troops from the war in Afganistan.

We are blessed to have Mr. Moyers' continued insight.
He is a champion of WE THE PEOPLE.
I am a 48 year old student - returning to school to finish my degrees and I constantly find myself turning to Mr. Moyers' work - the links, the episodes I watch and re-watch, and the transcripts.
THANK YOU, PBS for what you do - for these National Treasures: PBS and Bill Moyers!

"While you're out there smashing the state, don't forget to keep a smile on your lips and a song in your heart!"

Gilbert Shelton

Kathleen Hall Jamison seemed to imply that NPR was a democratic news outlet; surely the high numbers of Democrats listening to NPR do so because they can get a clear story. Does it really mean that NPR tells Democrats what they want to hear?????? Comparing Fox, a central force in the Conservative Media, to NPR seems superficial at best, misleading also.

Is Kathleen Hall Jamieson losing it? On this past week's show (9-5-08) she said that she thinks politicans should be believed. What utter nonsense! After more than 20 years in Washington as a senate aide and lobbyist I can assure you that politicians are NOT to be believed. Everything is filtered through the press person or media rep and spun accordingly depending on the climate at the time. Please, Bill, don't just take her word as final!

Local radio stations, left independent, are the best examples of freedom and democracy. Most are located in small markets where they mirror the community’s image.
Take Pullman, WA. Station KOFE in 1964 decided to turn over the entire station’s proceeds for one day to the local chamber of commerce. Chamber members bought spots and wrote their competitors’ commercials and read them over the air.
SeaFirst Bank wrote: “Pullman National Bank has a clock out front because inside they won’t give you the time of day!” And, Pullman National bank wrote: “You think that thermometer out front gives the temperature? No, it’s SeaFirst’s rate of interest.” (The broadcast was made in July when the thermometer read 85.)
In all that fun, including newscasts read by chamber members complete with botched pronunciations and laughter, $4,000 was raised. It bought most if not all of the Christmas decorations for the town.
Earlier, in Pomeroy, WA, which does not have a radio station, KOZE in Lewiston, Idaho, broadcast a play-by-play description of the Pomeroy Day Parade. The big news was that an area farmer had paid cash that day for a new Edsel. Interviews of local folks made them “famous” in that small farming community!
Genesee, Idaho, never had a station, either. But once a year, the Pullman radio station, already mentioned, did a broadcast from the farming community from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for Genesee Days. No other commercials were broadcast except those from Genesee. Crowds were huge. Interviews with city leaders, farmers and business owners told of the small town’s pride and joy: wheat farming and soil conservation.
Owners of large radio conglomerates today would call this “hokey.” They would also call this excercise “looking back, when we should be looking forward.” Today, many broadcasters exhibit just the opposite of community resourcefulness. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between.
There are radio stations located in the Seattle area that have left their orginal city of license. Stations that used to broadcast the hometown news and community events of suburban King, Pierce and Kitsap counties now involve themselves almost solely with Seattle or some other non-local focus.
None of this is illegal, thanks to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC has watered down what is required to receive a radio broadcast license. Each station can renew its license by just a postcard. No promise of news, community involvement or public service is necessary to renew its license.
Proponents of further relaxation of FCC broadcast rules argue that we have so many news venues that democracy is in good health.
Not when a few own so much of the media.
Imagine if Rupert Murdoch, coming off his acquisition of The Wall Street Journal, added our local press or radio and television stations to his worldwide stable of traditional and new media. Where would we turn for diversity of coverage in news, sports and opinion? It would be a catastrophe for the Puget Sound region.
We have allowed greed to replace enterprise. We have allowed the local voice of radio, for all intents and purposes, to be stifled.
Marconi must be rolling in his grave.
The voice of democracy and independent thought on radio is all but dead.
Bill Wippel of Normandy Park has been in radio for 58 years and is a former owner of KOFE in Pullman. He currently heads a nonprofit organization in SeaTac, Tape Ministries NW, that records books for the blind.

Here is a devil’s-advocate question for anyone willing to tackle it (and also a request for how to answer those who think unlimited media consolidation and profiteering are just fine): What if the American public REALLY WANTS to immerse itself in Britney Spears’ meltdowns and O’Reilly’s pugnacity. . . NOT to hear about the war in Iraq, healthcare, social security, global warming and all that intellectually challenging, and perhaps depressing, stuff? And what if the ever-consolidating big media is the most efficient and profitable way to deliver the public the crap that it wants? What right have we (those who want the more serious, thoughtful stuff) to object? Does the public need us as nannies? Someone please answer!

This report makes it sound like this is a new idea, allowing newspapers to own broadcasting. The truth is it's been a reality for years.

In Chicago right now, the Tribune owns WGN. In New York, the NY Times owns WQXR. In numerous other cities, waivers have been granted to newspapers that allow them to own broadcasting.

It's really very simple. Why not examine these operations and see if they do a good job. It's been my experience that people will discover that it's working very well. The newspaper-owned radio stations are among the best in the country. Their local reporting exceeds that of other stations in the market.

I think given the choice, people would prefer having their local paper own radio than a distant corporation. Don't you?

As ajunct to restriction of presidential powers we should remove the presidential ability to appoint FCC commissioners. Let's do like Pacifica radio and let listeners/viewers elect a board of public airwaves and broadband. Where does Bush find these joker's anyway, former Altria flacks?

When i saw this story on the Bill Moyers Journal i had to speak up.

I followed the FCC link provided above and posted my public comments to the site.

I had other choice words to say in private, but the following are what i'd say in mixed company:


You'll hear this a thousand times from a thousand people.

You work for "We The People of the United States...", not "The United Incorporated States of America."

DO NOT continue to sell us out to a handful of media conglomerates--outlets that control approximately 89% of this country's media.


Your decision to change the Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule to expand ownership will negatively effect tens of millions of Americans--what we read, what we listen to, what we watch, what we know (and are ALLOWED to know), and what we understand about our local communities and the world at large.

If you truthfully consider the needs of the most rather than cater to the wishes of the few (in a word, if you do the right thing NOW) there will be no regrets AFTER you've changed these rules (again) to benefit media companies (again).

Think about We The People rather than YOUR OWN SPECIAL INTERESTS.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak out--though more time and more publicity to this issue would have been more appropriate.

Please check out the growing protest movement over the intended rules change on Facebook:

For everyone who wanted the correct link from this statement:
"but his Democratic colleagues on the FCC disagree (pdf)."
here it is:

Unfortunately, a line break had been coded into the middle of the link. The previous link in the same paragraph suffered the same poor coding, however, the inclusion was at a point in the URL that it didn't matter.

If ever the Antitrust laws were intended to prevent an act of industry domination and non-competition, this should be it. The active flow of ideas, opinions, news and creative processes must not be further funneled through fewer and fewer outlets, and the hands that control them. One of the greatest elements to America's growth and success has been the free and uncontrolled exchange of ideas and information. Diversity is essential for creativity and advancement. A garden with only a couple of crops will not feed a nation. The FCC must remove the financial and power grab by the few who would own the waves.

I've been considering and following this for the last several weeks. I watched some Aljazeera programming on U-tube and discovered an entirely different approach to reporting on our economy. Network news and cable news outlets reported K. Martin tried to invoke Cable regulation that would have resulted in a la carte menus for the cable subscriber. Now I would choose Aljazeera right behind a couple of PBS outlets, whoever would carry Democracy Now, c-span 1,2,&3 and so on. Somehow I don't think this is what Commissioner Martin has in mind, yet there is no good reason it would not be possible. After we get the Congress to negate his media ownership deregulation plans lets work on cable regulation (access & price) and a la carte cable menus. I don't need sports, religion, shopping, murder court, police worship dramas, Fox and so on: I'll never pay for that crap. Give people like me some cable access!

The above link:
"...but his Democratic colleagues on the FCC disagree (pdf)." is no good. Could you please fix this link? Thank you.

Thanks to Bill Moyers & others I was made aware of what FCC Chairman FCC, Kevin Martin is trying to do with media consolidation, as a result I devoted this weeks political cartoon I draw to this topic, it's up at my website now;
I am also contacting the FCC to voice my opinion, as well as contacting my members of congress. We all should do the same before December 11th.

Just yesterday I read about this issue for the first time in an old issue of Yes! magazine (with regards to the 2003 attempt by Powell.) When I then saw the Moyers broadcast through Alternet this morning, it lit a fire of sorts. I've now filed a public comment with the FCC and I'm encouraging friends to do the same. Thank you so much for providing such an important alternative outlet to corporate media. It gives a young person hope.

Thank you for following this story. It's a vital one and needs the light of day.

Unfortunately, when the FCC chose to give the internet to the large telecommunications mega-corporations, few paid attention. What we got for our trouble was federal bulk monitoring of our email. Now we see part 2 of the plans - controlling the information available to us through radio and television.

When the FCC was created, diversity of opinion was an important part of the decision process. The idea that the airwaves were a limited PUBLIC resource and were owned by the PUBLIC was a given. The FCC is selling us out and needs to hear from us.

BTW, I often listen to the CBC. I kinda like it. But still think a diversity of opinion is good.

We must fight against media consolidation. There is too much managed media that controls honest reporting. We are only allowed to read & hear what they want us to hear & read. There is too much control in broadcasting. Unless we have a free press the big media will take over everything.

This is great! It gives me new material for my science fiction novel. It's a basic, not to distant future big business takes over the world and enslaves us all, story. I know it’s been done a thousand times, but not with a Bush Robot army patrolling the streets.

I would like to thank Bill Moyers for his good work. It is sad when the media itself does not bring the fcc's decition to our attention. this shows just how removed the public is in there deicition. I would like to know what congress is doing to keep us informed. where do we draw the line when our reprasenitves don"t even look out for our intrests. do we have to get new congress members to reprasent us. Norman West

I don't watch television any more, and appreciate accessing programming like this as a podcast. I stopped watching during the first gulf war. As a member of the television generation, I felt compelled to become a part of the film/television industry, and worked in the business from 1974 to 1995.

Having spent too many hours in dark rooms viewing and reviewing images over and over, crafting stories, manipulating information and teasing emotions, jaded, I chose to do something else.

I've spent many years thinking about the airwaves, and find this state of affairs today to have reached an ironic Orwellian point of note.

The ownership of the airwaves vests with the public, granting licenses to qualified broadcasters who used to be required to provide some public service.

So, we the people have created a system wherein profits have finessed public service; the need for and price of political advertising has made governing less important than fund raising; radical rightwing commentators bash government giveaways while raking in dollars on a cheap government license; programming and advertising continue to decline into an deceptive and amoral abyss; and news more often than not borders on the supreme court's description of smut, as having no redeeming social importance.

For years we've hired hucksters to sell us crappy ideas and crappy stuff, and now, they want us to give them the store as well.

This subject should have been the first one on the home page - it is that important! All other issues depend upon a fair coverage in the mainstream media, and they are not getting that because of the consolidation of power in the hands of a very few, which the FCC Chairman now wants to increase! As if what we get to see and hear and read isn't already so compromised by whether it will sell that we need it to be compromised further.

Bravo to Bill Moyers for daring to touch this third rail which all other outlets are avoiding, much as they avoided the questionable nature of recent 'elections' and the huge turnouts and valuable speeches at protests against invading Iraq and against the continuing occupation.

A valuable lesson has been that educated people now regard the media with a jaundiced eye. But that is a very sad message for us to be continually conveying to our children. We used to just say that about advertisements: don't take what you see as the truth. Now we have to say it as well about the news delivery.

Don't take what you see or hear or read as the truth.

This may be a wise lesson, but it isn't a joyful one.

Isn't control of the media what Hitler and Stalin instituted prior to their reign of terror/destruction? We must be mushrooms, they keep us in the dark and feed us Sh__. Congress: Are you so greedy and corrupt that you can't see evil in this move?

thank you for not only bringing this up to the public consciousness but placing within your site the information needed in order to contact the fcc to voice opinions.
I have now written the fcc and have written my thoughts on the matter for public record.
I no longer see our country as a democracy but as a fight for the closest thing we can hope for that resembles what we have become accustomed to calling our democracy.
I know this computer doesn't take the place of good old face to face conversation in the our local houses and streets but it too has become what we are accustomed to for better or worse.

It’s frightening that there’s so little public knowledge and concern about what’s being done to our sources of information in this country. More and more, people are influenced by the managed media—such as Fox “News”. It’s very reminiscent of Nazi Germany or other similar fascist states: control of the media is always one of their first priorities. And, it’s so obviously happening here. The less responsible control the F.C.C. exerts over the public airwaves, the easier it becomes for the citizens to lose control of their country. History is an excellent teacher regarding the extreme danger we’re facing. So far we’ve been terrible students. And people, like F.C.C. Chairman Kevin Martin, are so eager to advance the current administration’s agenda, and to further assure that we hear and read only what they want us to hear and read. What has been done to date by the F.C.C. to reduce oversight and control in broadcasting is a travesty and a terrible failure of government. Something must be done to prevent further abuse of our trust!

The fashion that Mr. Martin seems to be playing in the Media Ownership arguement is appalling. So far consolidation of the media industry has created benefits for a few, and poorer degrees of investigative reporting and news gathering for many. As an affluent citizen of 59 years old, I sometimes feel that the power and money grabs of our government gets farther and farther away from its Democratic principals, and most certainly less and less representation of what is really best for the private citizen. I worry at times about the future of our republic.

thankyou Bill Moyers for being a breath of fresh air and exposing salient issues that others dare to touch.
If only you were the President, what a wonderful place this world would be.
Keep keeping us informead and helping us protectour fragile democracy.

I sent this to FCC. Thank you for making it easier to communicate.

I am urging the FCC to stop working to sell our airwaves off to the large right wing consolodation. Stop changing the rules that ensure and support our sources of information and keep our media diverse so we can know what the news is to decide democratically and intelligently how to act in America. Stop changing the rules that allow fair media.


For reminders and alerts about the many examples of unethical and, yes, tyrranical behavior on the part of our current governmant and corporations thank goodness for Bill Moyers

Where is Congress? Asleep at the wheel again? Or too deep in the pockets of Big Business? It is painful seeing this beautiful country going the tube! Thanks for keeping us posted, Mr Moyers. I'd love to see you run for president!

The first thing a tyrant does is seize control of all news outlets. The one thing necessary for a tyrant to stay in power is to maintain control over the news outlets.

Anyone that promotes one and only one opinion in a market is a threat to democracy and freedom.

Republican extremists constantly try to scare us into believing that only they can protect us, BUT time and again they prove that they are unwilling to protect us from their campaign contributors. I am a life long moderate republican and I am ashamed of the Republican Party and the republican members of the FCC.

Enough already! No one elected FCC commissioners and they could care less how people feel about the media - they do what they please. I know since I have dealt with the FCC for many years and even received the Pioneers Preference Award from them - a unique award.

We get almost NO news today that hasn't been filtered by just a few papers and stations - usually owned by the same person or company. When did journalism end as reporting the news and start making the news?

Thanks goodness for Bill Moyers who is the only one on TV who raises important questions and interviews knowledgeable persons to describe and to answer questions.w

Who will replace Bill? Broncacio isn't mature enough yet, but he is doing very well - considering that Bill left him with a tremendous burden when he retired.

Welcome back, Bill - and keep em coming!

This period has the feel of the early sixties. the issues and the times feel
historic again.
it's the organizing. as in how to. at this stage it takes the pure of heart, yes?
where exactly is the leverage?
it's funny that the colleges aren't the place..., same w/ the churches...
the harvard gazette had an article w/ fellow commenting on how this technology keeps apart, yes?
we'll figure it out.

Given what appears to be FCC Chairman Martin's attempt to pull a fast one on the reading, viewing and listening public by scheduling a public hearing on very short notice in Washington state on this matter, is it any wonder that the .pdf file detailing comments by those Democratic FCC members who disagree with Martin's action is no longer available at the FCC website location as linked to by PBS' Rick Karr? It is so tiring to constantly come across dirty tricks from the Karl Rove playbook by Bush administration flunkies. Even if you are a conservative, how can you in good conscious continue to support an Administration and political party that thinks constant deception and deceitful tactics is the way to political power?

The mainstream media has been brainwashing us for decades, maybe always. This is just one more effort to make more effective that brainwashing because without it--horror of horrors!--we might actually make of this a truly democratic country.

You can be assured that I will mobilize again--I did so in 2003--to prevent the little oxygen that we still have, to be sucked up by Kevin Martin and the Bush/Cheney corporate-controlled regime.

Thank you again, Mr. Moyers, for defending our rights.

The link you've provided above -

results in an error. Please update - thanks

I have watched your show EVERY Friday, since you've been back on the air and I don't think I have ever disagreed with one of your guests . . . until tonight.

"ILLEGAL" is NOT a racist term. It means what it says, the person who is in some way illegal had done something that is NOT legal, has broken one or more laws.

That issue aside, perhaps we Americans need to have a debate on "What Is Citizenship?" "What does being a good citizen entail".

Manuel Vasquez believes that divided loyalties are a good thing. I disagree. You may, assimilate fully, or not, that is your business, but if you still feel loyal to another country, that IS and SHOULD BE the business of the government and U.S. Citizens.

My grandparents came from Russia. I can just imagine how thrilled this government of ours would be, if I announced that in a spirit of "transnationalism" I was embracing Russia's culture and values! Particularly given the sour relationship between Bush and Putin.

There are still occasions, including, I believe, when we swear in a President, that we are asked to swear an oath that we are loyal to the United States of America. I, for one, think that is a good thing.

Your segments, earlier in the program, on the situation in Mississippi and on the issue of media comglomeration showed us brave Americans wanting to take our government back to one of, by, and for the people. Not of, by and for this country AND some other country.

Our founding fathers anticipated that we would be an informed citizenry, and, I would bet, a loyal citizenry, by and large. I wonder what they would have to say about transnationalism and divided loyalties.

I am, on most issues progressive, a liberal, but on this issue, I disagree with those in my party who seek comprehensive immigration reform, when they are not willing to secure our borders first, crack down, seriously, on employers who violate the laws of the United States second. Then, and only then, am I willing to turn to the issue of the people who came to this country illegally, and while I do believe that a history of being a "good citizen" while they lived here, should put them in good stead for becoming a citizen, without being deported, if they have not been involved in criminal activities, such as gang memberiship.

I am not sanguine to those who maintain loyalty, and your guest used that word, loyalty, to another government.

As for food and language and looks and other issues your guest ticked of as the things about immigrants that citizens fear or feel uncomfortable about, in my view, that is also a red herring or putting up a straw man. That is NOT the issue.

If you don't want to learn to speak English, fine, but why should we have to turn our country upside down to speak your language. I am sick of having to "press 1 for English"! English is the language of this country, whether our elected officials want to acknowledge it or not. Our common language is one of the things that ties us together, connects us to one another.

Well, I'll end here. I can feel my temperature rising and I intend to direct it to more important issues than arguing against a guest who waxed poetic about divided loyalties and transnationalism.

A newspaper can create an online web site. A newspaper can purchase one $50 Meraki unit, register the information, and create an unlimited number of "branded" community wireless mesh networks for each community it wants to serve. A newspaper can offer visitors the opportunity to purchase a "branded" unit from them, and join the community wireless mesh network. If every house in a community has one of those units plugged in, the entire community would be one big intranet cloud, a community-wide wireless infrastructure that could be used to build a 21st century telecommunications infrastructure that rivals any multimillion dollar project. With planning, the entire community could have reasonable "backhaul" pricing that gives everyone Internet access for less than $10 per month per house, providing broadband speeds up to 100 times as fast as what the encumbents now provide. A newspaper, in other words, does not need tv broadcasting license or radio broadcast license, and with almost zero out-of-pocket expense, could provide a dramatic and remarkable change for its business and for every resident in every community it wants to serve. The U.S. switches to digital broadcasting in February, 2009. Shortly, thereafter, communities will lose their PEG channels, as they will be unnecessary for encumbents to provide. Who will fill the gap? It will be the public. Unless the newspapers act, and act now, they will see a dramatic and remarkable decline in business, as communities begin to realize, they can do the above as well as, or better than a newspaper. They will create their own "branded" community intranets, and expand to create community wireless mesh networks, independent of city, county, or state governments, and more importantly, corporations, like newspapers.

This is a way our freedoms will be slowly taken away from us. We need a FREE PRESS. The big media will just take over everything.

When did we elect FCC officials? These are bureaucrats. We elected Congress, and they control the money. Let's write Congress about this.

It doesn't matter if the newspapers can buy radio or TV stations, because you can't make ppl read the former nor listen to the latter and it has been clear for a long time that they have largely stopped. Classical music is hardly to be found outside of university stations, and it has diminished even in them. There are have been no good TV shows for more than a decade. Newspaper circulation has been declining despite the fact that advertisers still advertise, because they have no other place to advertise (save perhaps mail-order catalogs). Personally, I think advertising is akin to taxation without representation, because purchasers must pay for it whether they want to or not. Anyway, it would be my guess that all of them go under in the next decade or two, and at this rate good riddance.

You guys think it's bad in the USA? Try Canada.

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