Remarks made to the FCC/Obama Transition Team

Posted by Mitchell - December 22, 2008 (entry 619)

One good thing to have emerged from the Barack Obama transition team is that the part of the team tasked with creating an Obama FCC has turned up some very good people -- Susan Crawford and Kevin Werbach, by name.

While there is reason to be critical of the forthcoming Obama adminstration, and no assurance that a selling-down-the-river still won't happen (and some signs that it already has), the noises we have heard thus far from the Obama administration regarding media policy matters are far more encouraging.

I and about 25 other media activists and policy folks met with FCC transition team co-lead Kevin Werbach in a conference call this afternoon where we discussed a host of issues with Mr. Werbach: network neutrality, local media practices, public interest obligations of major media, digital access and digital inclusion, community media (particularly public access TV and low-power FM), the impact of media policy on artists, the DTV transition, and the topic I discussed -- concentrated media ownership.

The remarks I made are basically based on the following script I wrote before the conference call.

In the past 6 years, I have been involved with the group Chicago Media Action, and one initiative that CMA has been involved with is the some-would-say-quixotic efforts at stopping and reversing concentrated media ownership, particular to Chicago (and especially involving the Chicago Tribune Company) but also more generally nationwide. (But maybe it's not that quixotic, since the Tribune this month filed for bankruptcy and I would argue that the Tribune's bankruptcy is to some extent a consequence of our actions).

On the matter of media ownership, I would make three specific recommendations -- in order of increasing feasibility:

First, I would recommend the FCC investigate the matter of concentrated media ownership with an eye to make recommendations to the Justice Department for pursuing antitrust measures to help reverse concentrated media ownership. I understand that such an idea is not terribly popular within policy circles, and even less feasible, but there is some historical antecedent (the emergence of the ABC radio and television networks, for example), and I would suspect (as I see anecdotally myself) no shortage of popularity for antitrust among the general public.

Second, the FCC should demand more of whatever hurdles possible against current and future media mergers, be they more stringent requirements, greater public-interest obligations, or more concessions of other sorts. Even if throwing the switch to reverse the current media concentration is not realistic for the time being, I think the FCC can do more to throw sand in the machine of concentration media ownership.

Third, the FCC should be more forthright about its current operational matters regarding questions of media ownership. I'm specifically reminded of the development announced in September 2006 where former FCC economist Adam Canedub was quoted in an AP dispatch saying that former FCC-chair Michael Powell ordered the destruction of all copies of a draft study which connected consolidation of media ownership with poorer local TV news coverage. Then, days later, a second suppressed study concerning media concentration and the decline of the number of radio station owners is brought to light. I hate to have to ask this, but even if we can't have the rest of what I've asked for, can we at least have FCC commissioners who don't suppress research?

Thank you.

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