December 18, 2007

Merry Christmas, Rupert

Yup. They went ahead and did it. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) yesterday voted 3-2 to overturn the newspaper/television cross-ownership rule in major markets across the country. Read the summary in the New York Times.

That should make Rupert Murdoch and other media barons very happy. It lets them off the hook in markets where they've been operating under waivers allowing such cross-ownership, and it's sure to open the floodgates of cross-ownership all across America.

It's a sad day for local journalism. But the battle isn't over. A move is afoot in the United States Senate to nail the FCC for its transgression. There aren't many things I get excited about having Congress get its nose into -- but this is one of them. The public airwaves are too important to be left to corporate bean counters trying to squeeze even greater profits out of every market at the expense of the public.

Read the revealing remarks of FCC Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps. Their two minority votes just couldn't do the job. As you read their comments, it's apparent that much skullduggery has been going on behind the scenes; the Commission has demonstrated institutional ineptness, and I'm still dumbfounded as to why Chairman Kevin Martin launched this death march upon local services. It reached a new low for doing the public's business clandestinely and at the 11th hour....and later.

Kudos to Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Trent Lott of Mississippi for leading the charge to bring the FCC back to their senses. We're hopeful that South Dakota Senators Tim Johnson and John Thune will join the bi-partisan effort to pass S.2332, the Media Ownership Act of 2007. Among other things, it will correct the sloppy and irresponsible way the FCC conducted their hearings on media ownership. It will also breathe new life into efforts to examine the impact the media consolidation has on local services, and it'll finally give attention to the problem of under-represented minority ownership of broadcasting stations.

Local journalism, a bedrock of our democracy, is in peril. We need to find ways to engender an expansion of local broadcast services, and further media consolidation is not the way to achieve it.

Stay tuned.

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