While the FCC's decision last week to further deregulate the television industry clearly favors the giants of modern media, according to dissenting Commissioner Michael Copps, it also "awoke a sleeping giant."
While "some have characterized the fight against this seemingly preordained decision as quixotic and destined to defeat," he said, "I think, instead, that we'll look back at this 3-2 vote as a Pyrrhic victory."
Past debates on media concentration had been limited to the "few dozen inside-the-Beltway lobbyists [who] understood the issue," Copps said, but now "American citizens are standing up in never-before-seen numbers to reclaim their airwaves."
Members of the anti-media coalition say they will continue the fight against broadcast deregulation and battle for cable open access and digital public-interest obligations.
Opposition to deregulation came predictably from public-interest media groups like the Center for Digital Democracy and Media Access Project and other consumer-oriented groups like Common Cause. But the unusual coalition expanded into other left-of-center areas like organized labor (Communications Workers of America, Writer's Guild) and picked up support from groups recently protesting the U.S.-led incursion into Iraq (United for Peace and Justice, Moveon.org). The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists now cites the potential further consolidation of media control to boost its own consolidation with the Screen Actors Guild.
Even stranger bedfellows came in groups typically associated with the political right, such as the National Rifle Association (credited by FCC Chairman Michael Powell with generating 300,000 messages to the FCC), the Parents Television Council, and religious-based groups like the Catholic Conference and Association of Christian Schools.
The NRA expressed to its members an apprehension that the media power and news coverage could be concentrated among a few anti-gun zealots, making it more difficult to buy advertising to battle anti-gun efforts.
"Dozens upon dozens of public-policy organizations spanning the ideological spectrum [were] … in universal agreement that this is a bad idea," said Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council. Bozell, also head of the Media Research Center, said his groups' interest in media ownership stems from their opposition to "airwaves … full of raunchy programming produced by the New York-based mega-corporations who have little or no understanding of or interest in community standards."
Opponents of deregulation at the FCC meeting June 2 included several women from antiwar group Code Pink. After the vote was cast, they sang a protest song and were hustled out of the hearing room by security guards.
Operation Rainbow-PUSH leader Rev. Jesse Jackson held a prayer vigil Monday to protest the decision. He has long contended that concentration of media interests naturally diminishes ownership diversity.
Longtime media activist Jeff Chester, head of the Center for Digital Democracy, acknowledged reaching out to Hollywood groups and groups he described as progressive but said he had nothing to do with recruiting the more conservative groups.
San Francisco Bay Area activist Andrea Buffa, who works with Media Alliance and antiwar group Global Exchange, explained that antiwar groups came in because they "were concerned about the way the media, especially television, covered the war in Iraq. They came to the conclusion that they need to make sure there's a diversity of owners of the media outlets. We're going to keep working on this."