Reading The Tea Leaves: FCC Commissioners On Localism, Consolidation At Meeting
October 31, 2007 at 5:06 PM (PT)
The FCC held another meeting on localism TODAY (10/31), which gave the two Democratic Commissioners the opportunity to spout the same perspectives they've had since the MICHAEL POWELL era.
In prepared remarks, Commissioner MICHAEL COPPS reiterated his familiar warning against consolidation and warned that the practice "continues to choke the lifeblood out of localism, with its outsourced news, homogenized playlists and distant ownership ... consolidation denigrates diversity, denies minorities and women, and diminishes our already-distorted democratic dialogue. It seems to get worse with almost each passing week. I, for one, can wait no longer. If we truly believe in localism -– if it’s not just lip service –- the time has come to do something about it."
Consolidation continues to choke the lifeblood out of localism, with its outsourced news, homogenized playlists and distant ownership.
Noting the push by Sens. BYRON DORGAN (D-ND) and TRENT LOTT (R-MS) towards a formal notice of proposed rulemaking on localism with a full 90-day comment period before the Commission acts on media ownership, COPPS suggested, "The best ways to address these concerns may be through an honest-to-goodness license renewal process and a reinvigorated public interest standard. The bottom line here is that the FCC just has to get out of the business of allowing media conglomerates to acquire new licenses or renew existing ones without requiring that every licensee will actually use the public airwaves to serve the public interest."
Commissioner JONATHAN ADELSTEIN asserted that the Commission needs "to put new rules in place that improve the accountability of analog and digital media outlets to the communities to which they are licensed. We should not simply provide a set of 'best practices' for broadcasters. We should not simply revise an out-of-date manual and instruct the public that it is their responsibility 'to get the most service from their local station.' Nor should we simply get a report sugar-coating the issues from the Localism Task Force -– a task force that has been functionally abolished. We all know the issues. We expect real and concrete recommendations to form the basis for a substantive Commission response to the many concerns raised by an array of concerned citizens."
On consolidation, ADELSTEIN cited a poll by the MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY COALITION showing the public against further media consolidation as proof that the Commission should not loosen the ownership rules, admitting that "it is unusual to cite polling data in a Commission proceeding. In this case, however, the law is very simple and clear: We are to promote the public interest ... We must listen to the public. It is not just a moral obligation. It is the law."
Martin Stays On The Offensive
For his part, Chairman KEVIN MARTIN offered his spin on how aggressive FCC already is on promoting localism and diversity, He cited several proposals to increase minority ownership, localism and programming diversity, including relaxed LPFM rules, changes in TV-leased access and must-carry rules, stricter quarterly reporting to the FCC of local programming by licensees, and the requirement of a physical presence at all radio stations at all hours.
The Deciders: What Do The New Commissioners Think?
The sentiments above shouldn't surprise anyone who has been who has seen or read about any of the past FCC meetings on localism and consolidation. The key to whether the Commission passes any revisions to the current regulations will come from the votes by new Republicans, DEBORAH TAYLOR TATE and ROBERT M. MCDOWELL. Their opening comments were a mixed bag.
TATE started with the seemingly obligatory comments on the importance of localism. "In my home state of TENNESSEE, we have many rural areas, where local news and information is particularly important," she said, but then added, "In these rural areas, local news outlets are struggling to survive. Therefore, we must also keep in mind how we can set the appropriate rules that allow them to continue to serve the local interests of their communities." This perspective basically mirrors one of the NAB's talking points that states that consolidation is often the only way local stations can survive economically.
Also worth nothing is that while Commissioners COPPS and ADELSTEIN, not to mention several Congressmen, complained that there haven't been enough hearings on the matter, TATE said, "I am glad we have taken such a thorough, lengthy and measured approach to this process. Now, it is time for us to get down to work and I look forward to joining my colleagues in crafting rules that recognize the global nature of the world in which we live today, while meeting our commitment to localism." The keywords being "global nature," which are something out of the pro-consolidation hymnal.
The Art Of Saying Nothing
On the other hand, to describe ROBERT M. MCDOWELL's comments as "vanilla" would make other "vanilla" comments come off as "habanero peppers." MCDOWELL noted that since his family has lived in the WASHINGTON, D.C. for years, comments by the panelists "are especially important to me." He looked forward to what everyone was going to say, because "armed with this information -- which only you can provide -- we at the FCC can analyze today’s media marketplace and determine if and how our rules should change."
Talk about holding your cards close to your vest; MCDOWELL seemed to be holding his cards somewhere inside his chest cavity.