Federal Communications Commission chair Kevin Martin is doing everything he can to prevent public input that would challenge his rush to have the commission radically rewrite media ownership rules before Christmas. His latest tactic was to schedule a last-minute Halloween hearing on the proposed rule change — which would allow one media conglomerate to own the daily newspapers, weekly newspapers, television and radio stations and primary internet news sites in a community.
But Martin’s trick earned no treats for the media monopolists he seeks to serve, as the sneaky chairman was called on the carpet by his fellow commissioners, members of Congress and one of the nation’s largest and most vigilent religious groupings.
Dissident commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein appeared at a rally outside the FCC’s office in Washington to object to Martin’s chicanery. “Neither we nor the public received any confirmation that the hearing would occur until … just 5 business days before the event,” the commissioners said before entering the building for the hearing. “This is unacceptable and unfair to the public.”
Joining Copps and Adelstein were political, labor and community leaders who condemned Martin’s assault not merely on media diversity but on the basic standards for making regulatory shifts.
“We cannot and we will not let the FCC shove new media ownership rules down our throats. It is our constitutional obligation to stand up and demand that we see greater media ownership diversity, not less,” said Congressman Maurice Hinchey, the New York Democrat who chairs the Future of Media Caucus in the U.S. House. “Chairman Martin’s efforts to curtail debate and quickly advance a media consolidation proposal raise numerous warning signs that he wants to further shrink an already limited diversity of opinion found among American news outlets. His expected plan is the exact opposite of what is needed in this country.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said in his role as president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition,”We have a media diversity crisis — too few, own too much, at the expense of too many. Stopping media consolidation is the most important way to help minority ownership. But the FCC is trying to fast-track media consolidation instead of creating policies that expand ownership opportunities. The FCC should be serving people, not profit.”
Echoing Jackson’s point was National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy, who said, “Despite the fact that together we represent two-thirds of the country, women and people of color are woefully under-represented in media ownership. Massive consolidation and market concentration is one of the key factors keeping this vital population from access to the public airwaves.”
Some of the toughest criticism of Martin’s moves came from the religious community, which objected to the fact that the chairman had made it virtually impossible for citizens who rely on the media for the information they need to participate in American democracy — and who, for that reason, own the airwaves — to participate in a vital decisionmaking process.
“The members of the UCC and other faith communities should not have to call their lives to a halt on a moment’s notice to participate in civic discourse,” said Cheryl Leanza, managing director of UCC’s Office of Communication, which since the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s has been one of the most dogged defenders of public input in the development of media ownership rules.
Added the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, who serves as acting managing director of the UCC’s media-justice agency: “Church members communicate with each other on Sundays, so the limited notice meant we could not inform our members easily. People with work commitments, family responsibilities, and community obligations are not on the same time table as corporations and trade associations whose only concern is media regulation, and thus can rearrange their schedules at will.”
Guess got to the heart of the matter. Kevin Martin is organizing hearings with an eye toward serving media owners — and delivering on their demands — rather than with an interest in meeting the need of the citizens the FCC is supposed to serve.