December 21, 2007

Web Exclusive: The FCC Vote

RICK KARR: On Tuesday December 18, the Federal Communications Commission finally did it: By a vote of three-to-two, with F-C-C Chairman Kevin Martin and his Republican colleagues in the majority, said yes to newspapers that want to buy radio and television stations in the cities where they're published. The outcome of the vote wasn't a surprise. Nor was the outrage expressed by members of the public as the Commissioners cast their votes....

FCC CHAIRMAN MARTIN: If I could ask everyone who supports the item to signify by saying I...

PROTESTERS: The public doesn't want any more media consolidation! We want public interest! This vote is a sham!

RICK KARR: The public had been dead-set against the move from the beginning. And a bipartisan coalition in Congress urged the F-C-C not to go forward, or at least to slow down....

SEN. TED STEVENS: I do hope you'll listen to us. It's my feeling that the December 18th date ought to be postponed until we have a better understanding of where we're going on this.

SEN. BYRON DORGAN: And I hope the Commission will take heed to what I think is there obligation to the American people, to this Committee and this Congress.

RICK KARR: But the fix was in: As we reported last week, Republican F-C-C Chairman Kevin Martin had made up his mind a year and a half ago - before there'd been a single public hearing or formal study.

REP. MIKE DOYLE: Did you know what you wanted to do on June 15th, 2006?

CHAIRMAN KEVIN MARTIN, FCC: I think that it's fair that I did have an idea of what I thought the commission should end up doing in June.

RICK KARR: That's June of 2006, by the way. By the time the F-C-C met to vote on Tuesday, Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps made one last, futile stand against his Republican colleagues' plan.

FCC COMMISSIONER MICHAEL COPPS: We claim to be giving the news industry a shot in the arm-but the real effect is to reduce total newsgathering. We shed crocodile tears for the financial plight of newspapers-yet the truth is that newspaper profits are about double the S&P 500 average. We claim the mantle of scientific research-even as the experts say we've asked the wrong questions, used the wrong data, and reached the wrong conclusions.

RICK KARR: Republican Commissioner Deborah Taylor-Tate said the F-C-C had gone to extraordinary lengths to hear from the public ... by holding half a dozen public hearings.

FCC COMMISSIONER DEBORAH TATE: We traveled literally from sea to shining sea. These lengthy hearings provided an opportunity for thousands of American citizens to have unprecedented access to a governmental body about the role media plays in their lives and their opinion regarding media ownership. Over my 20-plus years of public service - at all levels of government - I cannot remember a single time that an agency expended this much institutional energy and investment on an issue, or was this open and thorough regarding a matter of public interest.

RICK KARR: But she apparently wasn't at the same hearings that WE covered - where those thousands of Americans said overwhelmingly ... that they didn't want any more media consolidation. The F-C-C's Republicans completely ignored those comments in their ruling. At Tuesday's meeting, Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps angrily said that the process had been a sham right up to the end, as Chairman Martin made changes to the proposal in the dead of night, right up to the very last minute - changes that the F-C-C's Democrats learned about in that morning's paper.

FCC COMMISSIONER MICHAEL COPPS: Although my colleagues and I were not apprised of the revisions, USA Today fared better because it apparently got an interview that enabled it to present the Chairman's latest thinking.

RICK KARR: USA TODAY, by the way, is owned by Gannett - a media conglomerate that benefits from the Republican move. and ... according to Bloomberg News ... the company's C-E-O PERSONALLY lobbied the F-C-C in the run-up to the vote - as did the Chief Executive of another mega-media conglomerate, Media General. In the end, Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said, the F-C-C had abandoned its responsibility to protect the public interest.

FCC COMMISSIONER JONATHAN ADELSTEIN: The only entities asking for relief are the very media giants we are charged with overseeing. As we were reminded on Capitol Hill, the law does not say we are to serve those who seek to profit by using the public airwaves. The law says we are to serve the public interest. And the public has repeatedly told us they are not interested in further media consolidation.

RICK KARR: North Dakota Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan says he'll introduce a bill to rescind the F-C-C decision. And a public interest group in Washington D-C is preparing a lawsuit to have the Commission's vote overturned. So this story's going to continue into two thousand eight...

Video credits: CNN ImageSource, ABC News VideoSource.