Kerry Pushes FCC to Oppose Big Media Consolidation, Protect Local Media
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) joined colleagues in introducing legislation today that would prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from ramming through new media-ownership rules. Kerry spoke at a hearing today about the dangers of media consolidation. The hearing was called after Kerry and other members of the Commerce Committee were informed that FCC chairman Kevin Martin would try to vote on new media-ownership rules in December of this year. A vote called too soon would advantage large corporate media entities and further media consolidation.
"We're not going to allow the FCC to ram through abrupt changes to ownership rules when there are still major unresolved issues about protecting minority and local media," said Kerry. "Americans are not going to accept the same tired excuse that their media choice suffers because of so-called unintended consequences of ownership changes. No one benefits from increasingly homogenous media where the only variety left is the choice of which celebrity meltdown to watch. Enough is enough. The FCC needs to know that their preferred approach of advantaging the big interests damages our democracy and smothers the free exchange of ideas, and Congress will not stand by and watch it happen."
The bill would require the FCC to have a 90-day comment period on any proposed media-ownership rule changes and to conduct a separate proceeding on localism with another 90-day comment period. The bill was sponsored by Senator Dorgan, and cosponsored by Senators Lott, Obama, Feinstein, Cantwell and Snowe.
Below are Kerry's remarks from the hearing today:
Mr. Chairman, on this Committee and in the Senate, we've been here before. There's almost a "Groundhog Day" quality to this discussion.
When I think of the FCC Chairman's recent comments on media ownership, I am reminded of Ronald Reagan's famous line in his debate with Jimmy Carter in 1980: "there you go again."
We may have a different FCC Chairman, but it appears we are once again headed down the same, tired ill-advised path - and we know where it leads.
In 2003 the FCC issued rules designed to loosen restrictions on broadcast media ownership. That decision was met with a public outcry and backlash rarely seen in the telecom and media world.
At the time I wrote to the FCC Chairman opposing these changes. Several of us worked on a resolution to disapprove the changes. And the courts eventually recognized the dangers of these changes and pushed back.
Fast-forward 4 years. We have a new FCC Chairman. We have a new attempt to consolidate media even though we have unfinished business at the FCC on localism and minority ownership. We have an insufficient process by which the public can judge these changes.
But little has changed in the approach of this Administration, and I don't think Americans are going to just accept any excuses in the future about "unintended consequences." They've seen too much. They've heard too much.
Charlie Brown can only miss kicking that football so many times before people know what's coming.
Now, I understand, the FCC Chairman has announced -- arbitrarily -- that the Commission will vote on December 18th. But he hasn't shared his thoughts on what changes he'd like to make.
The FCC needs to know that this will not stand and Congress will not allow it.
These rules influence the competitive structure of the industry and protect the public's access to multiple sources of information. Any changes must be considered with great caution and diligence.
We have several ongoing proceedings that impact our media market. There is a localism proceeding and a proceeding on minority-media ownership - a topic that I am very interested in.
The facts are clear and compelling, and they're staring us right in the face.
Think about this: in cities with large minority populations such as New York, Washington DC, Atlanta and New Orleans, there is not a single black-owned television station. Not one.
Since 1998, there has been a 40 percent decline in the number of minority owned broadcast television stations. Who in their right mind can look at this and think it's acceptable?
Proceeding dealing with these issues must conclude, and must provide concrete and enforceable recommendations, before broader rule changes contemplated.
The FCC's first responsibility is to ensure diversity, competition and localism. It has no responsibility to facilitate the business plans of the major networks or any other narrow economic interest. And there is no doubt that these rules have a substantial impact.
We've seen the consequences before. In 1996, we removed limitations on national radio ownership. By almost any measure, that policy has been a disaster.
The consolidation in radio has badly weakened the medium - leaving many stations lacking in character and diverse programming and as a result, listeners.
The television industry continues to consolidate, as a handful of national networks acquire local stations across the country. Local TV stations are being bought up by mid-sized companies, with no commitment to the community that they serve.
What is the end result? Local and independent voices -- lost. Diverse points of view -- homogenized. Consumer choice -- compromised. Why? Because the driving consideration is maximizing profits, not providing insightful news and analysis.
Mr. Chairman, I intend to closely watch the FCC. I am working with Senator Dorgan on legislation to ensure that we don't worsen the mess we have today. The Commission would be wise to hear our message.