As my friend and colleague John Nichols wrote last week, “Bush’s chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has initiated a scheme to radically rewrite media ownership rules so that one corporation can own the daily newspapers, the weekly ‘alternative’ newspaper, the city magazine, suburban publications, the eight largest radio stations, the dominant broadcast and cable television stations, popular internet news and calendar sites, billboards and concert halls in even the largest American city.”
Essentially, Martin wants to get rid of the cross-ownership ban, which has been on the books in this country since 1975. It’s a rule that prevents any one company from owning and operating both a newspaper and a broadcast television station in the same town. The idea that we’ve had in this country for thirty-some years, informed by the ideas of the Founding Fathers, is that it would be unhealthy for one corporation to control all of the most popular outlets for news and information in a given area. That would be bad for democracy. Apparently Kevin Martin doesn’t think that way.
FCC Commissioner Martin’s latest attempt to curb as much diversity and democracy from the nation’s media as possible is both a mogul’s dream and a citizen’s nightmare. In 2003 Martin’s predecessor Michael Powell tried to do the same thing (with Martin voting with him) but was stymied by a cross-partisan grassroots uprising that saw more than three million citizens, including many Nation readers, protest the FCC and Congress and force the monopolizers back on their feet. But they’re back and a renewed and reinvigorated citizens’ movement is the only thing that can stop them again. Encouragingly, there are already legislative allies in the unlikely tandem of Democrat Byron Dorgan and Republican Trent Lott. “We do not believe the commission has adequately studied the impact of media consolidation on local programming,” the two Senators, a North Dakota Democrat, and a Mississippi Republican, said last Thursday in a letter to Martin. “The FCC should not rush forward and repeat mistakes of the past.”
The media reform group Free Press has been leading the opposition with the formidable help of two of the five FCC commissioners, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein. Go to the Free Press Action Center and let your elected reps know that Congress should hold hearings on media ownership before any decision is made; file a comment before the FCC and write to your local paper and website. Free Press is also hosting live online chats with both dissident Commissioners–Adelstein takes questions tonight, October 22, at 8 pm EST and Copps next Monday, October 29 at 7 pm EST. Just click here to join the conversation.