Free Press Threatens Suit If FCC Proceeds With Ownership Vote
Various groups tell FCC to back off and complete diversity studies first
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/28/2012 2:40:01 PM
"If they don't follow the court instructions and do the studies they were supposed to do before moving forward, and if they move forward without public input, then I believe we will have no choice but to take them to court again -- Free Press was among those suing the Kevin Martin-led FCC when it attempted similar changes in 2007.
That came in a press conference held by a number of groups opposed to a draft order circulated by FCC chairman Julius Genachowski that would loosen the newspaper/TV cross-ownership rules, lift limits on newspaper/radio cross-ownership and allow radio/TV cross-ownership, while counting some joint sales agreements toward local ownership caps that are being left in place.
Those groups did not go as far as to commit to a suit as well, but said they had "grave" concerns.
On the conference call with reporters, Wade Henderson, president and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, led some harsh criticisms of the commission, suggesting that it was allowing conglomerates to gobble up outlets and homogenize programming. He argued the FCC proposal would continue to keep licenses out of the hands of diverse owners.
Also on the call were Jesse Jackson, founder and president, Rainbow PUSH Coalition; Bernie Lunzer, president, of the Newspaper Guild-CWA; Mee Moua, president, Asian American Justice Center; Alex Nogales, president and CEO, National Hispanic Media Coalition; Rashad Robinson, executive director, ColorOfChange.org.
They urged the FCC to table the vote until it has thoroughly studied the impact of its rules on diversity. "Too few controlling too much media undermines democracy," said Jackson. "Count Rainbow/PUSH in on this."
Lunzer said that people in the heartland care about the diversity issue. What we need more than anything, he said, is time to have a discussion, including public hearings.
The FCC is expected to vote ownership changes as part of its quadrennial review of its ownership rules mandated by Congress, and currently two years behind schedule, and address in another proceeding associated diversity issues.
But Aaron says that would not cut it. "They cannot be separated. They need to consider everything together. Diversity is not something that we can deal with later, after changing the rules after allowing more concentration. Diversity needs to come first." He says the court has been clear that these are not separate things, but are intertwined. Some FCC staffers have pondered whether the FCC will be able to convince the court it could loosen cross-ownership without having completed its diversity studies.
"We have been waiting and waiting for these studies on the impact of diversity, and the idea that we would push those off is absolutely not the way to go."
Henderson agreed. "There is a bit of an Alice in Wonderland quality of the FCC's decision-making. Sentence first, verdict after." He said the underlying problem is the need to diversify ownership to ensure there is diversity in hiring and management and policy. He said that is something that has to be taken seriously, "and it starts with the FCC."
Aaron pointed out that back when the Martin FCC voted the rules, senators who voted to undo them included Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. "The Federal courts have rejected the FCC's attempts to gut ownership rules," he said, "first in 2004, then again last summer, for failing to share their plans with the public and for failing to judge the impact on ownership diversity."
The groups suggested the FCC was failing on both counts once again.
"The Commission's draft media ownership order includes a comprehensive analysis of viewpoint diversity based on an extensive record developed over the last three years," said an FCC official who asked not to be identified. "Including six public hearings held across the country; two rounds of public comment; and eleven economic studies that were competitively bid, subject to peer review, and publicly released. In addition, all of the 323 [ownership survey] report data has been fully considered by Commission staff, and much of the data was publicly available a year ago, with all of it publicly available for weeks now, enabling stakeholders to review and comment on it."
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