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The FCC Rollback Hoax
by Josh Silver
November 27, 2003

During the last two days, powerbrokers in Congress once again went behind closed doors, ignored the public interest, and acted on behalf of giant media conglomerates instead of democracy and the public interest.

Despite the heroic efforts of many members of both the House and Senate - both Democrat and Republican - Congressional leadership and the White House used tricky tactics and trickier legislation to create the illusion of a partial FCC rollback while serving up yet another give away to Big Media.

Before this update, I want to tell you that NOW with Bill Moyers will feature a one-hour edition on the media this Friday, Nov. 28th. It is the only in-depth, quality reporting you'll find on national television about this crucial issue. Please check your local listings for show time.

This week Congress put a bogus FCC rollback provision into a giant spending bill that will likely pass as early as December 8th. The only provision of the June 2nd FCC rule changes that was considered during the negotiations was the "national broadcast cap" - the percentage of American TV viewers who may be reached by stations owned by one company. For those of us trying to stop media monopoly, this rule is much less important than the newspaper/TV/radio cross ownership and television duopoly/triopoly rules that were not even on the table in this most recent negotiation.

Rather than roll back the national TV cap to the pre-June 2nd 35% level, Congress changed it to 39% and professes that it will be "permanent." This is not a randomly selected number. It just so happens that Viacom (owners of CBS) currently owns stations reaching 38.8% of American households, and News Corp (owners of Fox) owns stations reaching 37.8%. Both purposely violated the old legal limit hoping Congress or the FCC would change the rule. Had the 35% limit stuck, they could well have been forced to sell off some stations to come into compliance. With a 39% limit, CBS and Fox can keep their stations while NBC and ABC can substantially expand holdings. Further, the new legislative language allows any company to violate the rules for up to two years without penalty--a loophole that will invite precisely the same kind of chicanery that resulted in Viacom and Fox getting a 4% increase in the broadcast cap to accommodate their illegal acquisitions.

So Congress hears the massive public outcry, addresses a tiny portion of the disastrous FCC decision, and custom tailors it so that it looks like a concession while letting Big Media have their way.

The real story is that in all the fuss over 35%, 39%, or 45%, the far more significant rules have gone through virtually unnoticed. All that holds them back at present is the September decision by a federal court to stay the rules pending a judicial review of their integrity. Failing a heroic judicial victory next year by attorneys with the Media Access Project (MAP) who are challenging the FCC, these rules will be implemented with very little attention from Capitol Hill. We're hopeful that next year's court case will be successful, but we are still far from victory. (Of course we'll keep you posted)

At the end of the day, a superficial victory has been won with the broadcast cap--even with the 39% sell-out. The White House was forced to back down to public pressure, which it has done on very few issues. Although we shouldn't be naive. They are trying to stick us with corporate welfare in the name of public service, gambling we won't be smart enough to figure it out. But they've given us a foot in the door. It is our job now to force it all the way open. Now we must refocus the debate on the impact of permitting cross-ownership--effectively the creation of near-monopoly media control in every city in America. This is the 800-pound gorilla lurking in the corner as Congress debates relatively small changes in broadcast ownership.

What can we do now?

For now, the most important work is to spread the word - to our friends, colleagues, families - that a democratic, diverse and skeptical media is an issue worth fighting for. Today the number of people who will take action - make a call, sign a petition, write a letter - is in the hundreds of thousands. With your help we can make it millions.

Help us sign up more E-Activists by sending this link to everyone you know: http://www.mediareform.net/mailinglist.php We send out action alerts occasionally, (not frequently) and it's easy to unsubscribe.

In January, we will continue to press the Senate on the issue, building more cosponsors for Senate Bill 1046 (a permanent nearly-total rollback of all the rules). In the House, a coalition of supporters will attempt to push for a vote on the "resolution of disapproval" already passed by the Senate. Should they succeed, all of the FCC rules will be rolled back and a major milestone will be reached.

GOP leadership in the House blocked that vote this fall, despite a letter to the Speaker requesting a vote that was signed by 205 Members, including 11 Republicans. In 2004, the House will launch its own "resolution of disapproval" and attempt to force a vote using a discharge petition. This is not the same thing as the letter with 205 signatures. This is a formal, procedural document, which not only calls for a vote on the House resolution but would force a vote if it collected 218 signatures. We begin gathering names from scratch in January, and we'll only win with your active participation.

After Congress and the White House turned a deaf ear to the last six months of public outrage over media consolidation--ceding only a weak legislative compromise that favors the broadcasters--the situation is ripe for a knock-down, drag-out fight. Everything political is volatile in an election year, and media reform is among the hottest issues in 2004.

With your continued participation - more phone calls to legislators, more petitions, more letters to editors, more organizing in your community, more educating in the groups you belong to - and a growing number of Americans who understand the importance of a democratic and diverse media, we will win this fight.

So enjoy your holiday, spread the word about the exploding movement to build a better media, and remember the words of Margaret Mead:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."


Josh Silver Free Press

PS. Join the Free Press newswire - a free service delivering top media headlines via email.
Go to http://www.mediareform.net/news/deliveries.php

PPS. E-Activists can sign up at:

Posted: November 28, 2003


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