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Appeals Court Rejects More Media Consolidation
By Stephen Lendman
In six editions of "The Media Monopoly" and subsequent update titled, "The New Media Monopoly," Ben Bagdikian explained how deregulation let major media corporations consolidate to oligopoly size.
Since 1983, the number of corporations owning most newspapers, magazines, book publishers, recorded music, movie studios, television and radio stations shrunk from 50 to a handful, including Time-Warner, Disney, News Corp., Viacom, Comcast, and Bertelsmann AG.
In 1996, Telecommunications Act backers claimed it would increase competition, lower prices, and improve service. In fact, TV station ownership limits were raised to let broadcast giants own twice as many local stations as before, charge what they wished, and dismiss public concerns in the process.
For radio, all national ownership limits were removed, and, in large urban areas, one company could own up to eight stations in a major market. In smaller ones, two companies could own them all.
The bill also consigned new digital television broadcast spectrum space only to current TV station owners, and let cable companies increase their local monopoly positions. Media and telecom giants were clear winners. Consumers lost out.
Yet in October 2007, FCC chairman Kevin Martin proposed lifting the 1975 media cross-ownership rule, forbidding one company from owning a newspaper and television or radio station in the same city even though some conglomerates already did like News Corp. In November, he amended his plan to allow cross ownership only in large markets where competition already exists, with deceptive loopholes through waivers to permit it anywhere.
In 2003, FCC Michael Powell also tried loosening ownership rules, despite opponents saying relaxing them would further stifle debate, inhibit new ideas, weaken diversity, and more greatly consolidate oligopoly power.
In June 2004, the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled favorably for the Media Access Project (MAP) in Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC, ordering the agency to reconsider its ill-advised ownership rule changes that included:
-- ending cross-ownership restrictions that prohibits a company from owning a newspaper and TV or radio station in the same city;
-- eliminating the previous ban on radio/TV cross-ownership, and replacing both types with a single set of cross-media limits;
-- a dodgy "diversity index" based on assigning varying weights to different media to determine if markets retained enough. It not, ownership limits would be restricted, but the formula proposed was deceptive and dishonest, including for smaller markets; and
-- redefining National Market Share to let ownership ceilings rise unfairly.
In fact, the public overwhelmingly wants more, not less consolidation. On July 7, an important victory was won when the same Third Circuit Court issued its long-awaited verdict, throwing out proposed FCC rules changes.
The Prometheus Radio Project (PRP) "builds participatory radio as a tool for social justice organizing and a voice for community expression. (It) advocate(s) for a more just media system, and help(s) grassroots organizations build communications infrastructure to strengthen their communities and movements."
PRP explained the court decision on its web site, accessed through the following link:
Headlining "Federal Court Rejects Media Consolidation in Prometheus vs. FCC," it hailed PRP's "second historic victory" this year, saying:
The Third Circuit Court rejected FCC rules changes "that would have allowed one company to own a newspaper and broadcast stations in the same market," despite some already doing it.
Other FCC broadcast ownership limits were also upheld, as well as agreement that proposed changes failed to consider how women and minorities would be affected.
Media Access Project's PRP attorney Andrew Jay Schwartzman hailed the decision, saying:
"We won on almost every point. This decision is a vindication of the public's right to have a diverse media environment," despite how little now exists, except through alternative media sources, especially online.
On January 4, PRP won another victory when the Community Radio Act became law, permitting thousands of new stations nationally. Praising the decision, PRP's Policy Director Brandy Doyle said:
"Media matters. Thousands of people fought to pass the (law), and thousands more spoke out loudly when the FCC tried to further consolidate broadcast media." However, despite important victories, "we must continue to push the FCC to do the right thing for community radio."
On July 12, ahead of implementing the Local Community Radio Act, "the FCC will again propose new rules." Key is ensuring low-power urban FM community radio stations channel space as Congress mandated.
"Commercial broadcasters must share the airwaves with the urban churches, schools, and non-profits who have waited more than a decade to serve their communities with radio."
On July 7, a Free Press.net press release also hailed the court ruling. Corie Wright (who argued with Schwartzman for PRP) called it:
"a sweeping victory for the public interest. In rejecting the arguments of the industry and exposing the FCC's failures, the court wisely concluded that (media) competition....not more concentration will provide Americans with the local news and information they need and want."
Nonetheless, she said dominant media giants still lobby hard for rules changes, very much against the public interest that won this battle but can't relax.
This win, however, prevented one company from owning a city's dominant newspaper, eight radio stations, three television stations, and a major cable operation, shutting out most other voices entirely.
Distorted Major Media Coverage
On July 7, New York Times writer Bill Carter headlined, "Court Overturns FCC Cross-Ownership Rule," downplaying the decision's importance, saying:
"In a narrow ruling unlikely to have an immediate effect on current broadcasters," the court "did not rule on the merits" of FCC's proposed changes. "Instead, (it) said that the FCC had failed to allow sufficient time for official notice and public comment on them," distorting what, in fact, happened in typical Times fashion, suppressing vital information from its readers.
Wall Street Journal writer Amy Schatz was no better, headlining, "Appeals Court Bumps Up Pressure to Overhaul Media-Ownership Rule," unsurprisingly siding with media giants while ignoring the decision's importance.
Bloomberg's Sophia Pearson and Todd Shields also offered a distorted, biased account, headlining, "FCC's Rules on Media Cross-Ownership Are Vacated by Federal Appeals Court," saying:
The court ruled that the FCC "failed to provide adequate notice," downplaying the decision's importance like The Times, including by quoting Newspaper Association of America president John Sturm calling the decision "very disappointing. We're back to the original rule that was passed in 1975. It strains credulity to understand why that is."
In fact, following daily major print and broadcast media explains clearly why less (lots less), not more, concentration is needed.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.
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