The Mouse That Roared
Combine the power of the Internet and the passion of deregulation's critics, and the result is a grassroots campaign unprecedented in the annals of FCC votes. By the commission's count, there was somewhere between 500,000 and 750,000 e-mails, post cards and letters commenting on the media-ownership issue, mostly from opponents of the rules. The success of all the various critics in getting more national news coverage for the issue and, apparently, affecting its outcome to some degree—FCC Chairman Michael Powell said as much—is in large part a testament to the power of the Internet as an alternative communications medium made even more powerful by its interactivity. Yet that power seems to undercut the argument it was used to convey.
The supposedly voiceless critics used the Internet to help convey the argument that media concentration has left them without an effective outlet for diverse or contrary opinion. The irony is as inescapable as the flashing "Cheap Motel" sign in a noir thriller. While Powell has long cited the presence of the Internet as an important additional communications choice that should be factored into any media-concentration equation, his critics have now made the case for him.
Want to voice your complaint about the FCC? Just click on mediadiversity.org for a ready-to-send template, or use Paypal to help fund its anti-consolidation ad campaign. Want the latest news from the media reformers, go to the aptly named mediareform.net. Or try mediatank.org for instructions on filing comments. Want to start your own Web newspaper, chat room, music site? Want to be the next Drudge? (OK, one is plenty) Go ahead.
Perhaps this Internet-driven grassroots effort is just what Powell and the Republican majority envisioned when they suggested that the world has changed much since the original rules were written decades ago.
Having demonstrated the power of the Web to make their opinions count, dereg critics can hardly plead powerlessness or suggest that the Internet does not provide a communications alternative that has changed the equation.
A Stand-Up Chairman
When we first met Michael Powell as a newly minted commissioner, he spoke passionately as a champion of full First Amendment freedom for broadcasters about freeing the media of undue regulation. His argument in the current media-ownership review has turned more to process and the dictates of Congress and the courts. That was clear last week as he ran the gauntlet of a Senate Commerce Committee tilting toward undoing the work of 20 months of review.
The ultimate fate of the biennial review notwithstanding, we are confident that the public-interest goal of a broadcast marketplace as free as possible of government dictate continues to inform the chairman's actions. For that we applaud him, and toward that end we stand with him.