The Federal Communications Commission could soon vote to further eliminate protections against consolidation of television and radio stations and newspapers.
That’s according to participants in Monday’s Arizona Forum on Media ownership at the KAET-TV (Channel 8) studio at Arizona State University.
The purpose of the forum was to spread the word that everyone, including consumers and businesses, should be concerned about losing these protections because democracy is at stake.
FCC Chairman Michael Copps said this issue is about “everything we see, hear and read.” The FCC is on the verge of altering the media landscape without any public dialogue or input, he said. The landscape will be filled with even fewer voices offering less information and opinions, he said.
“The vote will be behind us and there will be a new media system,” he said. “We won’t know what it will be because there was no public forum. There won’t be any pause to study how the media system will be altered.”
The FCC is poised to remove ownership protections that prevented further consolidation of television stations and newspapers, and even more radio stations, Copps said. These protections have helped preserve an open marketplace of local news, information and viewpoints, he said.
Many questions need to be addressed, such as how small businesses will be affected by higher advertising rates that come along with consolidation, and how children are affected by the content offered by a shrinking media ownership, he said. There has been some suggestion of a correlation between the increase in media consolidation and an increase in indecency in programming and content, he said.
“Why not ask these questions before we vote, instead of coming back after all kinds of damage has been done?” Copps said. “How do you put that genie back into the bottle? You can’t. Once it’s done, it’s done. There is a need for a national dialogue.”
Phyllis Rowe of the Arizona Consumers Council said her organization is concerned about further consolidation because it will reduce the number of choices for information access. She cited as an example Gannett Co.’s ownership of the Arizona Republic and KPNX-TV (Channel 12), saying only one person is needed to report on a particular issue for both organizations, eliminating the number of people covering an issue.
“We need more people to get both sides of the question,” she said.
Andrew Schwartzman, director of the Media Access Project, said editorial pages play a big role in local politics. He said FCC rules state that if a company can prove common ownership — for instance if Gannett bought the East Valley and Scottsdale Tribune — would benefit the community, then that acquisition would be all right. But Gannett supports a rule change that would erase the community benefit requirement, he said
Some participants were critical of how the radio landscape, which has already undergone rampant consolidation in recent years, has become less about offering variety and an open forum. Hugh Downs, former co-anchor of ABC’s “20/20,” won applause when he criticized recent actions by radio giant Clear Channel Communications, which owns eight Valley stations.
“It’s bad that it’s gravitated into so few hands,” he said. “It disturbs me that the Dixie Chicks are blocked on Clear Channel stations (because of singer Natalie Maines’ critical comments about President Bush). That is not the Democratic way.”