DISAPPROVING FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION BROADCAST MEDIA OWNERSHIP RULE
Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President. In a strong democracy, a variety of views must be available to citizens. Protections are essential so that minority views can be heard. That was the vision of America's founders when they drafted the First Amendment to the Constitution, and it has served the Nation well. Its principles are especially important today. Neither the broadcast industry nor anyone else is entitled to a monopoly over the dissemination of information in our society.
The presence of a diversity of voices, each contributing to our national discourse, is essential for the functioning of our democratic society. And the best way to foster that diversity is through competition.
Today, however, an increasingly serious problem is being caused by the buyouts of local broadcast stations by national media conglomerates. Competition suffers, and local issues of great importance to individual communities often go unheard.
Many of us in Congress are deeply concerned that the remaining diversity of our media will be further be reduced by the Federal Communications Commission's recent decision to weaken media ownership rules. The new rules allow even greater media concentration, in spite of its adverse effect on competition, the diversity of views, and major national, State, and local priorities.
I support Senator Dorgan's proposal to reject these rules, because they are not in the public interest, and would seriously weaken the protections in current law that prevent excessive concentration in the broadcast industry. The public has little to gain and a great deal to lose if we allow the FCC to slash the protections that serve them so well.
Each weakening of restrictions on media ownership in recent years has been followed by a burst of new corporate consolidation. Mergers have sharply reduced the number of media companies and threaten to erode the diversity and competition that are so important to our Nation. The new rules will greatly increase this problem, by allowing fewer firms to control the flow of informationlocally or nationally. It makes no sense for Congress to allow restrictions on the flow of information that is so important to our democracy in this information age.
As a trustee of the Nation's public airwaves, the FCC has a responsibility to include the American public in its decision-making process. Yet the commission has largely ignored public comment and debate before it these sweeping changes in the nation's broadcasting rules.
The commission agreed to one public hearing on the overall issue, and it refused to publicly disclose the rules before they were voted on. Such secrecy is unacceptable. What possible harm can come from public disclosure? The commission's "notice and comment" procedure is intended to allow an informed debate about these important issues of public policy, but in this case the agency used its procedures to keep the public in the dark.
Even with incomplete information, the public reaction against the proposed changes has been unique in the history of the FCC. The commission received nearly three quarters of a million comments, and over 99.9 percent of them opposed the increase in media consolidation.
As a result, a wide variety of organizationsincluding civil rights groups, churches, family values groups, and labor unionshave called on the FCC to reconsider the proposal. The National Rifle Association, the National Organization for Women, and many others expressed grave doubt about the wisdom of allowing greater consolidation. Nevertheless, the FCC approved the new rules.
I urge my colleagues to send a clear message today to the commission and the public by nullifying these rules and reversing this misguided decision the commission to support the interest of media conglomerates and ignore the public interest.