Consumer Groups Blast FCC Cross-Ownership Proposal
December 12, 2007 at 3:09 PM (PT)
In last-minute comments filed with the FCC, consumer groups FREE PRESS, CONSUMER FEDERATION OF AMERICA, and CONSUMERS UNION ripped the proposed FCC cross-ownership rule relaxation as a "post-it note conclusion to one of the most complex, controversial and important public policies the Commission has made in many years. Unless Chairman (KEVIN) MARTIN remedies procedural flaws, eliminates dangerous and vague exceptions, and thoroughly expands meaningful minority ownership and local programming needs, his plan will not serve the public interest or meet minimum legal fairness requirements for FCC rules. The Commission should offer a Further Notice that explains, defines and defends its new rule in a cogent and intellectually consistent manner. Only then can such a rule be expected to win the confidence of the public and stand the tests of time and judicial scrutiny."
The filing complains that the Chairman failed to allow adequate time for public review and comment on the proposal, which "does not offer any explanation nor cite anything in the record upon which it is based. Terms are not defined. Classifications, conditions and standards for merger review are ambiguous. The range of potential impacts is wide. The issues left completely unaddressed are highly significant and deeply intertwined with the rule itself. In short, this proposal is a post-it note conclusion to one of the most complex, controversial and important public policies the Commission has made in many years. Such an ending is neither just nor fitting—nor should the public be forced to tolerate this latest and most egregious example of indifference to, and abuse of, the policy making process."
The filing adds, "The obvious contradiction between permitting further media consolidation and promoting minority ownership begs the question of whether the Commission is ignoring this central policy issue in order to avoid inconvenient realities that derail its preset agenda." Answering its own question, the filing continues, "On the whole, despite months of research, the Commission has never provided any compelling evidence that public interest limits on media ownership should be relaxed. On the contrary, the data collected show the opposite—the ownership limits protect the quantity and quality of local news. Further, the Commission has ignored the key questions of localism and diversity, avoiding any substantive analysis of consolidation’s impact on minority ownership based on an accurate count of minority owners. Throughout, the Commission has followed a process that was ends-oriented from the start, never deviating from a research plan that traded objectivity and the public interest for blind faith in deregulation. The Commission’s failure to address these empirical issues prior to the issuance of a proposed rule —- even one delivered via a press release —- is stunning."
On the merits, the consumer groups say, "The assertions that cross-owned combinations produce more news and that they benefit the financial viability of the newspaper business are simply not borne out by the facts and in no way justify reducing the diversity of viewpoint in our community.... The idea that the Internet is a suitable substitute for local news and original reporting doesn’t pass even the lowest evidentiary bar." The groups are calling on the Commission to complete its localism and minority ownership reviews before deciding on cross-ownership, and are proposing that the FCC use a "10-voice test" to ensure diversity in media ownership within a market.
Read the comments by clicking here.
In separate comments, AFTRA and the COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS OF AMERICA similarly criticize the Commission's process and call for a 90 day comment period after publication in the FEDERAL REGISTER. The PROMETHEUS RADIO PROJECT ripped the cross-ownership proposal for waivers as setting a standard that is "no standard at all" and disagreed with MARTIN's contention that the viability of the newspaper business is at stake. And the TEAMSTERS have filed for reconsideration of the cross-ownership waivers granted to TRIBUNE CO., with TEAMSTERS General President JAMES P. HOFFA complaining that "Apparently the FCC was tuned out during its public listening tour. In its rush to judgment, the Commission has failed to enforce its current rules or protect the public interest."