Ignoring strong public sentiment against the move, the FCC approved on a 3–2 party-line vote Chairman Kevin Martin’s proposal to allow a single corporation to own both a broadcast and newspaper operation in the 20 largest media markets as long as at least eight other independent news sources exist in that market.
The Republican majority on the FCC also voted to approve more than 40 waivers for pre-existing cross-owned combinations in markets large and small. These waivers will shield companies like the Tribune, News Corporation, Media General and Gannett from even the weak standards of Martin’s new media ownership rules, according to the media advocacy group Free Press. Click here to demand that Congress overturn the new FCC rules.
In a joint statement, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), the Communications Workers of America (CWA), The Newspaper Guild-CWA (TNG-CWA) and the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-CWA (NABET-CWA) expressed strong concern that the FCC did not require that any merged newspaper-broadcast operation in the same market to maintain separate newsroom and editorial staffs, an addition that would have helped to ensure an independent editorial voice in communities.
They also stressed that ensuring a diverse media is more critical than ever in today’s environment and raised concerns about the impact of consolidation on competition, diversity of opinion and quality jobs.
The unions had called on the FCC to provide a full public review of the proposed rule, including a 90-day comment period as well as an open process to resolve issues of local control and women’s and minority ownership of broadcast media.
"As the ownership rules are relaxed, we will see even further consolidation and editorial control by just a few corporations," Tom Carpenter, AFTRA’s general counsel and legislative director, said. "This rule change is contrary to the FCC’s mandate to safeguard diversity of local voices and the public interest."
TNG-CWA President Linda Foley said more, not fewer, safeguards are needed to promote media diversity. In the United States, local television and newspaper media markets already are highly concentrated, and most cities are one-newspaper towns, she said.
"Our members know what happens when one company owns more than one TV station or a major TV station and the monopoly newspaper in the same market," said NABET-CWA President John Clark. "The owner merges operations, slashes jobs and reduces the quantity and quality of the news."
FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, the only two Democrats on the commission, opposed the new rule. The two conducted field hearings on the proposal and heard consumers complain that media was already too consolidated and that local news and diverse views were being sacrificed for the corporate bottom line.
The final word may come from Congress. On Dec. 4, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation unanimously passed the bipartisan Media Ownership Act of 2007 (S. 2332)—a bill that would direct the FCC to conduct a separate proceeding on local ownership and create an independent minority and female ownership task force before moving forward with any changes to media ownership limits.
The bill, introduced by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., also would ensure a 90-day period for the public to comment on any proposed rules.
In addition, more than 20 civil rights groups have called upon the FCC to first address the media diversity crisis before considering any new rules.
Reprinted from the AFL-CIO news blog, http://blog.aflcio.org