Common Sense Media Grills Presidential Candidates

Edwards, Obama, Richardson Weigh In on FCC, Kids-and-Media Issues

Common Sense Media, the nonprofit group that advocates for parental oversight of children's media consumption, polled the presidential candidates on their views on key media topics, including management of the Federal Communications Commission and ownership of the media.

Barack Obama

Some of the candidates were not ready to weigh in yet, Common Sense said, but that did not include Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who has been gaining on Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) in the race for the Democratic nomination. He continues to raise the volume on media-ownership issues.

Obama was co-sponsor of a bill that passed this week in the Senate Commerce Committee that would effectively block FCC chairman Kevin Martin from voting Dec. 18 on his proposal to loosen media-ownership rules, and weighed in by proxy at a media-ownership hearing in Chicago several weeks back.

Below are some of the responses on a couple of key topics (a number of the candidates are still planning to weigh in, according to Common Sense). For more answers, check out Common Sense’s Web site.

Q: Media ownership has been a major concern at public hearings held across the country over the past year, with many organizations raising concerns that consolidation ends up decreasing the quality and diversity of programming. Do you think media-ownership consolidation is a problem and, if so, what would you do to increase the diversity of media ownership?

John Edwards

John Edwards: Eight business conglomerates control the majority of media content in America, with extensive holdings in publishing, print journalism, online content, movies and radio. I believe extreme media consolidation threatens free speech, tilts the public dialogue toward corporate priorities and away from local concerns and makes it increasingly difficult for women and minorities to own a stake in our media.

I will strengthen local and national media-ownership and concentration limits so that a few huge multinational corporations are not in charge of shaping our democracy.

Obama: Excessive media consolidation is a problem. We should be doing much more to encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, to promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints and to establish greater clarity in the public-interest obligations of broadcasters occupying the nation's spectrum.

I believe the nation's media-ownership rules remain necessary and are critical to the public interest. Instead of allowing greater consolidation, such as the current administration has done, I fully endorse the call for new rules promoting greater coverage of local issues and greater responsiveness of broadcasters to the communities they operate in.

I also believe broadcaster license-renewal requests -- the periodic review required to ensure that broadcasters are complying with their public-interest obligations to local communities for using the public spectrum -- should require greater FCC scrutiny and public input and occur more frequently.

Recently, I sent a letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin calling on him to launch an independent review panel to develop proposals to further promote media-ownership diversity. According to press accounts, following an insufficient 30-day review, the FCC intends to modify existing ownership rules by allowing even greater media-market consolidation. This would allow large media outlets to become larger, potentially cutting out small business and women- and minority-owned firms.

I also asked for the FCC to reconsider the chairman’s proposed consolidation time line and start a public review of any specific proposed rule modifications. Finally, I requested that chairman Martin complete a study of the responsibilities that broadcasters have to the communities in which they operate.

Bill Richardson

Bill Richardson: Growing media-ownership consolidation is a problem, and I will work hard to ensure that this trend does not continue along the current path. I will reinvigorate both the FCC and the Department of Justice to make sure that our democracy is not undermined by excessive control of the media being placed in the hands of just a few.

Q: As president, you would have the power to appoint the FCC chairman and nominate commissioners. Would the FCC under your administration be more or less active on kids-and-media issues than the current FCC? What type of person would you nominate to lead the organization?

Edwards: America's radio and television broadcasters use our public airwaves -- worth more than half a trillion dollars -- for free. Until radical industry deregulation in the 1980s, the government required that they serve the public interest in return, with public-interest obligations on minimum public-affairs programming, a Fairness Doctrine, modest limits on advertising and, most important, a vigorous license-renewal process.

The subsequent concentration of media ownership into a few corporate hands and the loss of localism and independence make the public-interest tradition in broadcasting more important than ever. I will appoint FCC commissioners who will immediately define robust public-interest obligations for digital broadcasters -- a task 12 years overdue. These obligations will be determined with an eye toward the needs of children and families.

Obama: The FCC in an Obama administration would be more active on kids-and-media issues than the current FCC in the ways I have already described. I would appoint a chairman who appreciates the importance of diversity and competition in our media markets. I want a chairman and commissioners who are knowledgeable about the industry but are not beholden to any set of the special interests that so dominate the current media-and-communications debate.

To that end, I would appoint a chairman who would conduct the significant business of the agency in public, so that any citizen can see in person or watch on the Internet as the FCC debates and deliberates the issues that affect American society. I will also require my nominees to commit to employ all of the technological tools available to allow average citizens not just to observe, but to participate and be heard on the issues that affect their daily lives.

Richardson: The FCC under my administration would be more active on kids-and-media issues, and I will nominate a competent, effective person to lead the commission -- one who will not mistake partisan politics for sound, policy-based decision making.