Friday, December 14, 2007

FCC Changes Could Impact Minority Ownership of Radio & Television Stations

Monitoring the way the media reports on issues related to race and culture is one of the main reasons I started this blog. With so many Americans logging on, tuning in, downloading, uploading and sharing content these days - the media plays a pivotal role in how our collective culturegeist, the very nature of our cultural and racial identity is shaped.

Last night I stayed up to watch some of the testimony of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioners (Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate pictured above)as they were grilled on C-SPan in front of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in preparation for a scheduled December 18th vote on proposed rule changes to the cross-ownership ban the commissioners argue Congress grants them the right to alter in light of the evolution of today's media environment.

Making it easier for large media organizations to own more media outlets isn't exactly looking to the interest of diversity of ownership in media and a number of people feel the FCC is rushing to vote on this before getting feedback from those who would be most impacted.

If you're not familiar with the FCC and what they do, take some time to get at least a cursory understanding of their role and oversight responsibilities. It's important that all Americans do.

Who was at the table testifying? FCC Chairman Kevin Martin; FCC Commissioners Michael Copps, Jonathan Adelstein and Robert McDowell; and Deborah Taylor Tate, FCC commissioner and chairman of the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service.

I watched the prepared statements delivered by Deborah Taylor Tate and and Robert McDowell. Both Republican Commissioners also got teary-eyed and nostalgic as they thanked outgoing US Senator Trent Lott for his years of service in a gush of emotion. My take was that they both spent an exceedingly long time waxing philosophic about how much media has changed, repeating themselves with lists of iPods, podcasts, digital cable, network television etc.

Each of us knows about the plethora of choices we all have in the way we consume media - my sense is they came off as trying to side-step the big issues. Essentially and I'm not an expert, the FCC is granted the authority to make adjustments in rules that govern who can own media outlets.

So if, for example there are too few companies controlling the majority of media outlets, the FCC can make it more difficult for a company to own newspapers, radio stations and television stations in the same city or market. But they can also do the opposite.

The FCC flat out refused to delay the vote scheduled for next week when Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) asked them to do so.

Many public advocate and media watchdog groups are concerned that relaxing the restrictions imposed by the FCC on companies wanting to own different media outlets in a given city, region or market is going to hurt the chances for companies primarily controlled or owned by minorities or women to bid for, or obtain licenses to operate television and radio stations in the US.

I'm not suggesting that Tribune or Fox doesn't have a right to own a variety of stations and cable channels, but there is also an inherent and compelling interest in making sure that there is some degree of diversity amongst the make up of the executives who own and control the companies that create and distribute the content that Americans access.

You can check out the videotaped testimony of the FCC Commissioners and the Q&A by the members of the Senate Committee on C-Span for yourself and form your own conclusion.

No comments: