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Media Consolidation: What happens after the FCC vote?

By Rick KarrRick Karr by Robin Holland

(photo by Robin Holland)

Next Tuesday (December 18), the five members of the Federal Communications Commission will decide whether or not the U.S. will go through another frenzy of media consolidation: They'll vote on Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's proposal to let newspapers buy radio and TV stations. Martin's plan is opposed by minority groups, a majority (pdf) of the public, and, as we report on this week's edition of THE JOURNAL, Capitol Hill lawmakers from both parties.

I tell my students at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism that reporters shouldn't make predictions because if they turn out to be wrong, the reporter loses credibility. But I'm throwing caution to the wind to make some predictions about Tuesday's FCC vote, anyway:

  • Despite opposition from members of his own party, Martin will press ahead and have the full FCC vote on his plan.
  • Martin's GOP colleagues on the FCC will vote for the plan.
  • The FCC's two Democrats will vote against the plan.
  • The FCC will therefore approve the plan on a 3-2, party-line vote.
  • Lawmakers in both Houses of Congress will introduce bills to overturn the decision.
  • Trade groups representing media conglomerates will challenge the decision in Federal court, arguing that it doesn't go far enough.
  • Public-interest groups will challenge Martin's plan in Federal court, arguing that it's bad for democracy.

The first prediction is a no-brainer: At a committee hearing on Thursday, December 13, Senators from both parties pressed Martin to delay the vote, but the FCC chairman didn't budge.

The second, third, and fourth are gimmes, as well: At hearings in both the House and Senate, the FCC's other Republicans argued in favor of lifting the ban on newspapers owning broadcast outlets, while the minority Democrats kept up their opposition.

On Capitol Hill, a Senate bill is almost a certainty, as both Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) have said that they'll press to overturn an FCC vote for more consolidation, as they did in 2003. A House bill isn't a sure thing, but Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) has already launched an investigation of FCC procedures, and Rep. Michael Doyle (D-PA) has hinted that he or a colleague may introduce legislation to rescind the FCC vote.

The lawsuits are likely, as well. Newspaper publishers and broadcasters have complained that Martin's proposal sets two different standards for newspapers that want to buy radio and TV stations: Those in the nation's 20 largest cities would have an easier time of it than those in smaller markets, they say. (The FCC's two Democrats and public-interest advocates say the distinction is meaningless and all papers would be able to get into the broadcasting business under Martin's plan.) Those public-interest groups, meanwhile, are almost certainly contemplating how they might repeat the legal victory they scored (pdf) the last time a Republican-dominated FCC tried to loosen media-ownership rules in 2003.

The bottom line: This story won't end with the FCC vote on December 18. So stay tuned.


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Comments

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

Rick Carr wrote:

"in large part because spectrum (i.e. the amount of space available on the broadcast dial) is limited by the laws of physics."

That was before the invention of FM, TV, the internet, and the expansion of the spectrum to where it is today.

Clearly the 1934 opinion was wrong. Somehow, they were able to find more space in the spectrum. Now the FCC is selling it off at a huge profit. Plus the fact that you're limiting your attention to OLD media, which are obviously in decline. It's like complaining about the treatment of horses years after the automobile has been invented.

Just a few weeks ago, this same FCC opened application process for LPFM frequencies. They weren't available in 1934 either. ANY American can apply for those new frequencies. This process was done over the objections of the NAB and other traditional broadcasters. Was it reported by PBS?

Again, a number of responses in one comment:

George: Congress acknowledged in 1934 that the "free market" made no sense with regard to broadcasting, in large part because spectrum (i.e. the amount of space available on the broadcast dial) is limited by the laws of physics. In other words, it's simply impossible for everyone who'd like to become a broadcaster to simply raise an antenna and start broadcasting; the number of potential competitors in the market is sharply limited by nature. You're right to suggest that regulation has shaped the economics of broadcasting, but that simply leads to the fundamental question with regard to broadcast regulation in a democratic republic: How should those regulations shape the economics of broadcasting? The answer isn't obvious, and its derivation isn't trivial.

Janice Pound: The two Commissioners who dissented on the recent vote are both lifelong Democrats.

"Why are candidates for office being forced to raise multi-millions of dollars in order to obtain media coverage?"

It's not for media coverage, but rather to buy specific campaign ads.

Media coverage is free. But it is impartial media coverage. Meet The Press has been devoting its show for the past few weeks to Presidential candidates, and all of that air time is free. Regular news coverage is free.

If the candidate wants to attack another candidate, or only present his personal spin, he has to buy an ad. It turns out politicians prefer this approach, because it allows them to say what they want without an opposing point of view, as one gets in a debate or talk show.

Some cadidates have chosen to do "info-mercials," which appear to be a tradition interview show. But it's really a paid ad, where the candidate just gets soft-ball questions, and doesn't have to respond to serious questions.

But that is why parties are raising so much money. It's for what I call "controlled news."

Did you know the signal to watch the video on this subject has been scrambled
so it won't play on tv and it won't play on the computer either.
I am in the Atlanta viewing area, and my service provider is Comcast. I have been watching Now for years, and several times the
program would jam up and the station would go off the air.
Not only did it do that when a real news program was being aired. My mother and I were watching one sunday and in the middle of a sentence, the program changed and started a previously aired program. I did write to Nows' producers about this , they said they didn't know why the programs were interrupted or not shown at all. But the producers did tell me the story that wasn't being aired in Georgia, was a report about a company in Georgia.
I think something is fishy here, I believe it is intentional censorship and I am infuriated about the dismantling of our American Democracy some of us understand.
We have no democracy, we have no vote, no civilized country would trust computers to tally their votes, computers are too easy to tamper with.
Where is our common sense?
I am tired. Can a blog post change anything or is this a placebo for us? I hope it helps, I hope we can save ourselves.
It all looks like fascism to me.

Yes, you have my vote to demand media owners freely air candidates for office.
But do we really have any choice? There are no real ways to prove how we voted.
Do you think its a puppet election, to pacify those who think their votes are actually counted?
At least the national PBS affliates are still trying,
and Moyers you are the best.
Now is great, and I wish for more programming about important issues, so sorely lacking from commercial television stations.

This may be an out-to-lunch comment regarding corporate rights to disable citizen rights to control regional media.

Why are candidates for office being forced to raise multi-millions of dollars in order to obtain media coverage? Is this mostly to buy national broadcasting time from networks, not only for individual ads, but for debate air-time? When the President takes over "Desparate Housewives" air time to make a national address, do we pay networks commercial costs for this? Are Networks responsible to cover, as a public service, national election debates, or do the Parties have to pay corporations for this time? If Parties must pay for such public service, why is this allowed? If the public owns the airwaves, aren't corporations allowed to broadcaste only with "public service" provisions in place? Why contribute to Political Parties if a large portion of money gathered are to pay Networks/Corporations for equal-time "public service" rules for Candidates? Just out-to-lunch question.

I wonder if the other two on the FCC board are really another party. Bush stacked the US Civil Rights commission. They are to have no more than 4 of one party, so 2 Republicans switched to independent therefore able to get on board. Secretly you now have 6 Republicans.

I just read Kevin D's comment below about the free market.

Unfortunately regulations have interfered with the free market. ANY qualified person or company should be able to own a radio station. However, gov't regulations excluded newspaper companies from qualifying. Martin's change in the rules removes that bias, and opens the marketplace. That's why free marketeers should cheer this change.

I dont understand why politicians (and not just Mr. Martin) feel it is their job to make sure those who hold wealth in any segment of business maintain said wealth at all costs. Have they never heard of free markets and the creation of new things which make old things obsolete?

Ownership in a free-market system includes risk, and politicians over the past two decades or so have always been too happy to tweak laws and rules to help owners with risk avoidance. If politicians like Mr. Martin were around 75 years ago protecting the wealth of buggy whip manufacturers, we would have automobiles today with buggy whips included as standard equipment.

It isnt Mr. Martin's job to tweak the legal playing field to make sure the newspaper owners stay economically viable. If newspapers are made obsolete by new media technology that is more effective, then so be it. That is simply the free market at work.

While the knee-jerk reaction is to hate this Martin guy, he's really just in there doing his job, which is to proceed at all costs and ignore all the heat. The real question is, who's putting him up to it?

Rick, after I saw your report, I was as angry as all the other people here. I couldn't believe this guy was ignoring Congress! So I googled the story and found a lot of other reporting on the same story. They all included the quote from Martin. I feel it completely changed the story, and my reaction to it.

Call me old fashioned, but I think it's less confusing and more enlightening for journalists to present both sides of the story.

I'll bundle my replies into one post:

George: We didn't include Chairman Martin's response for two reasons. First, journalism in television and radio is always a tradeoff because there's a limited amount of available airtime. We decided that explaining what Congress and the Third Circuit said to the FCC wasn't crucial to our piece and would have confused the issue while eating up a lot of airtime. Second, Martin's answers were, at best, unclear, as were the Senators' comments. Again, we decided that including them would have been more confusing than enlightening.

Linda: You're on to something. My team and I are working on a piece on a closely-related topic that should air in January. Stay tuned.

Janice Pound: The Commissioners are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, but by law no more than three can represent the same political party. In practice, the party that controls the White House has the majority on the FCC. I believe (but I'm not certain) that the "minority" Commissioners are selected by their party's Congressional leadership, then formally nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

Today's vote was no surprise; just another example of those in charge declaring that each of them is "the decider" and the people and polls be damned. So much for the notion of "government of the people, by the people, for the people." Money buys power. It's disgusting.

How do the 5 members of the FCC get to be? Are they appointed? They have proven,once again, that the republicans want to destroy Democracy in this country. Small stations will be literally wiped off the map. AT&T is waiting in the wings to own your internet. You will only be allowed to hear, read, and interact with those things they allow you to have. Greed and power of the corporations already control your entire gov't, this will just be the finishing touch!

Kevin Martin is the face of the new America - of the corporation, not of the people. His arrogance and ignorance is admirable if you work for "them"...but does anyone care? I think not.

Radical revolutionary actions are in order. I'm praying for a third party candidate similar to Evo Morales or Hugo Chavez who has the guts to reinstitute the public commons and serve human needs with our collective resources. The airwaves are only the tip of the iceberg. At a time of increasing energy crisis
we should be preparing rail and waterway transportation
(including canals and rivers). Instead I witness rails being ripped up here in the South.
Media is tragic though. Our country no longer makes shoes or socks, and China could leave us walking barefoot. People are so dependent on retail supply and have so little creative initiative that they must download their very scripts and thoughts from corporate tripe media. Violence from panic lurks just below a thin crust so that when window food gives out and thumb games are cut off all Hell will break loose. No wonder those blackhawks, warthogs, Blackwatters and intelligence sweeps are standing by: We are living in a meat factory! Why doesn't media get around to those perils instead of pointing up the unsatisfactory profits of newspapers? Kevin Martin is best viewed as a pretty marionette, with a Satanic voice.
Where is she or he: a real leader who can be honest with us that the Capitalist gameshow is fixed and failed? (If you know email me- beretco.op@gmail.com

I wrote the following to Kevin Martin a young Republican chairman of the FCC who is doing the administration's business and intent on consolidating the media against the will of the people. I wrote the following:

Bill Moyers's Journal segment about you was interesting. It was, of course, not surprising. I wonder though always what separates your ilk from mine.

I cannot fathom why what you have is never enough. You want it all. It seems utterly unjust. The media as I see it should give voice to the largest segment of the people and not be put in the hands of a few corporate interests so that we the people get to hear many political views and not simply a few.

I feel like I am in an occupied country drowning in a quagmire of political sewage and there is no one to throw me a life raft; not the Congress which is inept and not the media which is supposed to do its job and question everything but does not or forgets five minutes after the next scandal story breaks. The media has systemically failed to perform its responsibilities of skeptically vetting every piece of information coming from the den of lies of this administration. Instead of vetting the operative word is forgetting which is exactly what Congress and the media have done with the plethora of information it has which has led to an utterly incalculable amount of deceit, death and destruction perpetrated by an administration which has no conscience. As Joseph Welch so exquisitely said questioning the tyranny of one man in another decade: have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? I ask what has become of our country if those who have committed treason, treachery and torture do not pay a price for the illegalities they have committed.

This previous paragraph was taken from an editorial I recently wrote. Views such as this will not be aired by the Murdochs of the world if they get their way as you relentlessly push -- as Moyers says -- to allow a handful of media giants to swallow up more of local media. You are probably glad about that. Suffice it to say I will do as a concerned citizen the most I can possibly to do to at least try to return this great country to those for whom the Constitution was written. Our country should not be for just a few very rich men but should be all of us. From the many it becomes one. Somewhere along our arduous history we have indeed taken a step backwards. I wonder if you care. If you do I urge you to ponder intently and reconsider your views about the decision you are soon to make so that you someday in old age can look back on your life and say you REALLY cared about the principle of something other than lining your own pockets or the pockets of already very wealthy men.


Rick Karr left out one more prediction: Lawmakers in both Houses of Congress will give careful consideration to the dollar amounts they have received and will continue to receive from the lobbying firms representing the media conglomerates.

The public needs to understand that this isn't a corporate issue. It's not a choice between corporations owning broadcasting or the public owning broadcasting. That's not what this is about. Very few individuals have the resources and patience it takes to own broadcasting. So it comes down to companies and the government. They are the only ones with the resources to operate these stations.

Currently, consumers have a choice between corporate owned radio (commercial radio) and community-owned broadcasting (public). Those choices are not challenged or affected by this discussion. Public broadcasting will remain unchanged.

On the commercial side, the question is which companies will own broadcasting, because the American system of broadcasting, established in 1928, is a private-public partnership.

Most intelligent people read newspapers, and have a respect for the quality of reporting newspapers do. Newspapers have great resources in covering local news. Would it not be helpful to share some of those resources with broadcasters in those communities? Anyone who has listened to the news on WQXR, the radio station of the New York Times, knows what I'm talking about.

I believe that if the public had a chance to receive the quality of news it gets from newspapers on the radio, they would see the benefits. Preventing newspapers from owning broadcasting makes broadcasting a far less interesting medium.

Is this about what we can see or what we cannot see.

http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=15497

Only CNN has shown some of this - the REAL reason illegal immigration laws are so lax.

North Carolina has the symbol of the North American Union on their drivers licenses already.

Anybody see the news stories and Congressional debates on the topic?

Want your country back? Then vote for people who'll take our media back from the corporatists who're using them to deceive and distract us.

With Rupert Murdoch as her new best friend, Hillary isn't going to fight very hard against the media conglomeration that, in fact, Bill unleashed on us with Al Gore's smiling assent. (Links to their remarks are at www.turnoffyourtv.com/networks/telecom.TOC.html)

Of course they didn't start it; Reagan’s minions did, by overturning the Fairness Doctrine. His FCC first attacked it in 1985, the same year when Australian-born Murdoch became a naturalized American citizen because only citizens could own U.S. television stations Amazing, isn’t it? We fret about the duplicity of immigrants marrying for green cards, but welcome into the corridors of power those whose selfish purposes exist on a grander scale. Murdoch isn’t even a duly tax-paying citizen for us, thanks to Newscorp’s complex structure, transnational scope and use of offshore havens.

That the latest travesty being orchestrated by the evil Kevin Martin child targets our largest cities just in time for election season can be no coincidence. Metro areas are usually the most liberal. By ignoring the popular will, Martin is merely replicating what Shrub and the rest of his thugs are doing now -- namely, all the damage they possibly can, before claiming the huge pots of gold that always await good servants at the end of the corporatist rainbow.

Pardon my incorrect acronym in regards to the FCC. I incorrectly listed in my comments that it was the FTC.

My wife and I were absolutely appalled when we listened (for a second time) regarding the FTC chairman's arrogance in front of the Senate's committee investigating the relaxation of rules governing the media in local areas. Doesn't the Chairman report to someone? Is he the sole dictator of the FTC? It looks like he is "bought and paid for".
What action can the American people do to begin to curtail this administration's total disregard for the wishes of the majority of this country? It is getting scary to see democracy being eroded by a single administration right before our eyes! Our Congress seems to be a bunch of wimps.

This move by Martin to move so fast on this in spite of so much public sentiment to the contrary and I am also concerned that Congress cannot at least make the commission hold a full 90 day review period on this matter.

Since this the fix is obviously in on this--there must be a slew of media deals pending just waiting on the vote on Tuesday---the vote will probably open the flood gates on even more media consolidation--they have to have these deals done in time to try to manipulate next year's election cycle to an even greater extent than they would do without this.

The airwaves belong to the people. Kevin Martin obviously does not understand this, or he does not care. How did he get this job? Can he be removed?

Rick,

Thanks for the reply. Why didn't you report Martin's statement.

There is more to this story than you reported, and clearly left viewers (as you can see from this blog) with the wrong impression.

I find it very interesting that the only media that is covering this story of how the big media conglomerates are stifling the democratic process is on Public Television!!! Although, why should this be any different than all of the other crap that is going on with our government. If you can buy a politician I guess it doesn't matter how many people show up for public hearings or express their views to the Congress, or even sometimes what Congress has to say in the matter. Send the entire Bush administration on a one-way trip to Iraq!!!

In reply to George @ #3: The situation's more complex than you make it out to be in your comment. The '96 Telecom Act -- which I presume is the law to which you're referring -- did change the ground rules for the FCC. Prior to its passage, the Commission was supposed to presume that ownership limits were justified and act only if it could be demonstrated that they weren't. Afterwards, the FCC was to presume in favor of repealing or loosening ownership limits unless such action would clearly harm the public interest. Likewise the 2003 Prometheus decision: The Third Circuit found that the FCC could rescind the cross-ownership ban, not that it had to. The bottom line in both cases was that the decision was up to the FCC, not mandated by Congress or the courts.

Prior to tonights story on Media Consolidation, I watched "NOW"s story on Ron Paul, and an interesting dichotomy came to mind:

Paul is all about "Less government", so where does he stand on Media Consolidation? After scouring the Net, I found nothing.

If Paul takes the Libertarian attitude, it would be *less* government oversight and fewer restrictions on MC... which ironically, is one of the very reasons why his campaign depends so heavily on "new media".

Paul would almost certainly dissolve the FCC, which would all but obliterate what little diversity we have left in this country.

I find it fascinating that the very people that support Paul because of his "freedom from government" stance on everything the most would be most disaffected by some of the very effects a Paul Presidency would have.

Another Bush appointee is bent on giving away the "Store." This really should make the American people sore!!!!!!
Again, no accountability.
This administration gets away with it every time.

My email comments on the FCC site:
Mr. Martin, May I suggest that you delay the Dec. 18th decision, and end your lock step allegiance to this abmoninable administration and its corporate bedfellows.
Mr. Martin may I further suggest you take time to view Mr. Potter in the film "It's A Wonderful Life" or Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens "A Christmas Carol" and see yourself in your loyalty to cheney/bush, and the selling of your soul to those devils.
May God Bless Us Everyone, as our government destroys us.

I wondered why your reporter didn't say that Martin's reason for continuing with his vote on the 18th was an act of Congress. Martin cited this Act several times during his testimony and it wasn't reported. This improper reporting made Martin appear stubborn and obstinate. Yet it was the lack of work by Congress that had forced Martin in this position in the first place.

If the Congress really feels that it's a bad idea for newspapers to own broadcasting, they should discuss it, and pass a law, rather than rely on a regulatory agency that is merely following poorly written laws.

This cross-ownership ban has been discussed for years, and the 3rd circuit court in 2004 (The Promethius case) decided that it was right and proper for the FCC to act. Martin is merely following instructions by Congress and the court.

The free exchange of diversity of opinions so as to find compromise and consensus and move forward on issues concerning our lives is a cornerstone of our fragile democracy. Congolmerate ownership of the outlets for the expression of those diverse opinions is counterproductive to democracy.

I was so upset by this recounting of recent events regarding Kevin Martin, (bootlicker of the imperialists), that I nearly had a heart attack. This poor nation is being dismantled piece by piece by these scarey
neo-conservatives!!!

Poeple fought and died for Unions, remember? People fought and died for civil rights. Now, as the corporate world takes apart our government and protections piece by piece, all we do is fight for the newest big sale. We have failed ourselves. We have, as a population, become as Bush once called us, " a focus group. So if all you get is what big business wants to sell you on TV, radio and the internet, don't be surprised. You were too lazy to care. It's all about feeling good, isn't it?

I liked the bit where both houses of Congress flapped their hands like school girls afraid of icky frogs and ASKED for a delay in the vote.

Is this guy appointed?

Aren't there any provisions to remove him from office for dereliction of duty?

Is just-out-of-diapers Martin ready for an in-depth investigation into his personal finances when he hands over this coup to the big media conglomerates? If the people, and Congress, do not support this move, how do those 3 Repugnant members of the committee have the power to do it anyway? Very disturbing.

Baby-face Martin have any plans for where he's getting a job after he leaves the FCC? Seems he has a reason for not listening to the public or it's representatives. If he wasn't so open-minded as to not finish his Op-Ed before finishing the public hearings, one would almost believe he and the Republican members are selling the public interest for their personal gain.
Which of course never happens in Washington D.C...

Who owns Kevin Martin?

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