On the record

Oratorically, the FCC can be a pretty dry hole. But the FCC commissioners, voting 3-2 for new deregulatory rules, were often impassioned in their rhetoric. Here are excerpts from what each commissioner had to say.
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For deregulation

Kevin Martin

The media touches almost every aspect of our lives. We are dependent on it for our news, our information and our entertainment. Indeed, the opportunity to express diverse viewpoints lies at the heart of our democracy. ...

Therefore, we must analyze today's marketplace. ... Factors such as rapidly improving technology and innovation have contributed to a media landscape that is continually evolving—and considerably different from the one when most of the broadcast ownership rules were first adopted. ...

Yet what has not changed is the importance of the three principles our original rules were intended to promote: competition, localism and diversity. ...

The order we adopt today finally concludes a review of the newspaper/broadcast crossownership rule. ... In so doing, we recognize that newspaper/broadcast combinations may result in a significant increase in the production of local news and current affairs, as well as an improvement in the quality of programming provided to their communities. ...

Finally, I note that the decision regarding the national ownership cap was particularly difficult. ... I believe the affiliates made a compelling case as to why a national limit needs to be retained. I agree that a balance between the affiliates and the networks is important to maintaining localism, and thus I did not support proposals in the record to eliminate the cap altogether. Yet the networks also made persuasive arguments that a 35% cap is not necessary—in particular, that we do not have sufficient evidence to conclude that the two networks currently reaching over 40% of the country have caused actual and significant harm today.

Kathleen Abernathy

Today the Commission faces another historic decision affecting free speech where it must decide whether to be guided by facts or by fears. ...

But the reality is that, under today's order, there will continue to be hundreds of pathways into the American home in the average American city or town. The reality is that we are continuing to impose a national television-ownership cap in recognition of the important role affiliates play in promoting localism, competition and diversity. ...

Those opposing today's order have also emphasized that four companies air the programming that is chosen by approximately 75% of viewers during prime time. To me, the critical fact is that these providers control no more than 25% of the broadcast and cable channels in the average home, even apart from the Internet and other pipelines. Given these other viewing options, I can only presume that this means that Americans are watching these providers because they prefer their content, not because they lack alternatives.

It would be anathema to the First Amendment to regulate media ownership in an effort to steer consumers toward other programming. By the same token, concerns about the degradation of broadcast content do not justify government manipulation of consumer choice. "Degradation" is just an elitist way of saying programming that one does not like. ... I refuse to pour one ounce of cement to support a structure that dictates to the American people what they should watch, listen to or think.

Michael Powell

Today, we complete the most exhaustive and comprehensive review of our broadcast-ownership rules ever undertaken. We have done so, obligated by our statutory duty to review the rules biennially and prove those rules are "necessary in the public interest." ...

We have been working tirelessly towards: reinstating legally enforceable broadcast-ownership limits that promote diversity, localism and competition (replacing those that have been struck down by the courts); building modern rules that take proper account of the explosion of new media outlets ... rather than perpetuate the graying rules of a bygone black-and-white era; and striking a careful balance that does not unduly limit transactions that promote the public interest, while ensuring that no company can monopolize the medium. ...

This proceeding has been the subject of extraordinary public attention. It is right that it has been so, for the values these rules are intended to advance are critically important to a vibrant democracy. I have heard the concerns expressed by the public about excessive consolidation. They have introduced a note of caution in the choices we have made. Consequently, our decisions today—retaining the rule against networks merging, tightening the limits on radio ownership and modifying, rather than eliminating, the remaining rules-are modest, albeit very significant changes.

I must punctuate one irreducible point: Keeping the rules exactly as they are, as some so stridently suggest, was not a viable option. Without today's surgery, the rules would assuredly meet a swift death.

Against

Michael Copps

I dissent to this decision. I dissent on grounds of substance. I dissent on grounds of process. I dissent because today the Federal Communications Commission empowers America's new Media Elite with unacceptable levels of influence over the media on which our society and our democracy so heavily depend. ...

At issue is whether a few corporations will be ceded gatekeeper control over the civil dialogue of our country; content control over our music, entertainment and information; and veto power over the majority of what we and our families watch, hear and read. ...

Down one road is a reaffirmation of America's commitment to local control of our media, diversity in news and editorial viewpoint, and the importance of competition. ...

Down the other road is more media control by ever fewer corporate giants. This path surrenders to a handful of corporations awesome powers over our news, information and entertainment. ...

Even supporters of today's decision have been heard to say that the state of radio is troubling, yet the Commission charges ahead to deregulate TV and newspapers without comprehensively studying the results of radio concentration. The failure to do so ... suggests the rules we vote on today are a mistake. ...

I have seen the concern, the deep feeling and outright alarm on the faces of people who have come out to talk to Commissioner Adelstein and me all across this broad land. Are they emotional? You bet. And I think they are going to stay that way until we get this right.

Jonathan Adelstein

This is a sad day for me and, I think, for the country. I'm afraid a dark storm cloud is now looming over the future of the American media. This is the most sweeping and destructive rollback of consumer-protection rules in the history of American broadcasting.

The public stands little to gain and has everything to lose by slashing the protections that have served them for decades. This plan is likely to damage the media landscape for generations to come. It threatens to degrade civil discourse and the quality of our society's intellectual, cultural and political life. I dissent, finding today's order poor public policy, indefensible under the law, and inimical to the public interest and the health of our democracy.

In the end, this order simply makes it easier for existing media giants to gobble up more outlets and fortify their already massive market power. It capitulates too many of the longstanding demands of the media companies we oversee.

This approach shatters most of the last vestiges of the consumer protections that weren't eliminated in the 1980s. This decision pulls the teeth out of the remaining rules, leaving the FCC a toothless tiger. As big media companies get bigger, they're likely to broadcast even more homogenized programming that increasingly appeals to the lowest common denominator. If this is the toaster with pictures, soon only Wonder Bread will pop out. ...

In the context of media ownership, no matter what others think the Circuit Court may have implied, the FCC still has a special duty to protect what the Supreme Court referred to as an "uninhibited marketplace of ideas."

Related

NCTA Schedule

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association's Annual Convention and International Exposition will be held at Chicago's McCormick Place June 8-11. Here are highlights of the schedule, as of May 15: