Broadcasters made their case for loosening media ownership rules at the FCC's media ownership hearing in Harrisburg on Friday. The first speaker was Bill Baldwin, an executive with Hall Communications, owner of 21 radio stations including in nearby York and Harrisburg, Pa..
The hearing is one of six planned public forums on proposed media ownership rule changes, where the commission is hearing from broadcasters and their supporters as well as anti-consolidation activists.
Baldwin said that his stations are run by local managers and that 50% of the employees are women. He said his employees devote 30,000 minutes annually to public service spots, and invest in local news and public affairs. They also hire local talent and the average length of service is 20 years. "Turnover is something we don't know much about," Baldwin said.
The stations are also involved with food banks, hospices, Make a Wish, Habitat for Humanity, rescue missions, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, United Way, among others. To make Baldwin's point, the head of the local United Way praised broadcaster commitment to the organization, including emceeing events and producing campaign videos at no charge.
The public forum was crowded with broadcasters and representatives from several organizations on both sides of the issue applauding the industry including the United Way, the YWCA, The York Jewish Community Center, Salvation Army, the local blood bank, and a representative of the Amber Alert system.
That tone was in marked contrast to the industry bashing that predominated the FCC's previous media ownership hearing in Nashville. though ultimately critics weighed in toward the latter half of the hearing..
Also making the broadcasters' case was Paul Quinn, President/GM of Hearst-Argyle's WGAL-TV, who said local service is a core mission.
Quinn said that his station does more than 30 hours of local news, 20-plus hours of public affairs and national news, has a 24-7 local weather channel, raised more than $10 million for local charities last year, and 16 town meetings. He also said that during the 2006 election, like all Hearst-Argyle stations, provided at least 10 minutes per day for candidate-centered political coverage.
Because of its vast resources, he said, the station "was able to stream this meeting over our station's Web site." Given unprecedented competition, including competitors that were not around in 2003 when the FCC first tried to loosen ownership rules. "We will not be able to serve communities if the rules are not brought into conformance with today's realities," Quinn said.
There was even a working broadcaster in attendance with a six-week-old baby in her arms arguing that "Big Media" had given her the flexibility to be both broadcaster and mom.
Among those weighing in against more consolidation was a representative of a small newspaper publisher, who argued against lifting the ban on newspaper/broadcast crossownership--a rule will likely survive the FCC's review of planned rule changes.
An African-American Bishop and minister to a low-income neighborhood argued against further media consolidation. He said it would "silence voices that must be heard. He continued to say it would continue to isolate the poor and disenfranchised. "When local media outlets are owned by remote outlets," he said. "Stories about feeding the homeless do not make headlines.
"Stations target white audiences and rarely reference the values of people of color. I believe the FCC should not even consider allowing more concentration until it has dealt with the mandate to increase diversity," he said.
During the open mike session, the FCC did not require commenters to identify where they were from, which the National Association of Broadcasters had asked them to do in order to ensure the people commenting on the local issues where local to the area.
While, the vast majority of the first open mike commenters were broadcasters and charity group heads praising the industry, on the other side was a woman who identified herself as the daughter of former FCC commissioner Clifford Durr. She said that the communications business was a mess and that compeitition was not the best way to insure the best broadcast service.
Clifford Durr was a commissioner appointed by Franklin Roosevelt, who was also concerned about media consolidation.
The latter part of the hearing was dominated by consolidation critics, including one woman identifying herself as a former broadcaster and now a screenwriter, said that she would not vote for a presidential candidate unless he pledged to lower ownership rules . " Please, inform your friends that you own the license," she said.
One self-described media activist said he had gotten up at 5 a.m. to drive to the hearing and was missing a day of work. He said that most of the parade of pro-broadcasting comments had come from people "on the payroll" of big media.
The hearing was scheduled to end at 2:30. At a little after 3 p.m., with still three dozen or so out of 150 commenters yet to speak, the commission moved the proceedings out to the lobby of the Whitaker Center and promised to record the comments of everyone who wanted to weigh in.