Ryan Blethen / Times editorial columnist
Media-consolidation foes make wonderful bedfellows
It is a safe assumption Federal Communications Commission members Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein know opposition to media biggies runs strong in the Puget Sound region. How could they not after sitting through three-plus hours of pleas for the FCC not to relax the rules for our nation's media?
The hearing began with opening statements that left no mistake about the two commissioners' positions on the subject: They both oppose loosening ownership rules that would allow one company to own a newspaper, television station and a number of radio stations in the same market. Then the floor was opened for testimony to some invited speakers and the public.
Adelstein and Copps heard everything from 9/11 conspiracy theories to protection of low-power radio stations. In between the outlandish and the heartfelt, it was clear the 400 people at the Nov. 30 hearing, which was co-sponsored by The Seattle Times, were overwhelmingly Democrats or under some far-left identifier. No surprise, since the unofficial hearing was in downtown Seattle.
Media consolidation and public airwaves have never struck me as partisan issues. It was partisan to a number of people at the hearing, though. That is why two things gave me hope that night.
The first was that conservative talk-show host and one-time Republican gubernatorial candidate John Carlson was applauded by the crowd after he spoke of the damage done to radio by consolidation.
Second was what Copps said in his opening remarks: "I can also tell you that this is not at its heart a partisan issue. It is not Republican vs. Democrat. It is not liberal vs. conservative or red state against blue. It is instead an all-American grassroots issue that brings people of many political beliefs and affiliations together."
The cheers for Carlson, which probably surprised the cheerers as much as the man they love to hate, are evidence of Copps' notion of national unity on this issue. Copps' theory should pass a deep-red test Monday when the FCC goes to Nashville, Tenn.
FCC commissioners will hear compelling testimony from across the political spectrum as to how the media have been damaged by consolidation.
Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters Guild of America, plans to talk about how songwriting is no longer an option for many talented people. In an interview, he said where there used to be three radio stations in a community, now there is only one — or all three are owned by one company and play the same songs.
"The songwriters have really been hurt by consolidation. Not many people know, I don't know if radio knows, quite frankly," said Carnes, who, as a songwriter in Nashville, has worked with Garth Brooks and Reba McIntyre. "Every one of those decisions put songwriters out of work."
Then there is Bob D'Andrea, founder and president of the Christian Television Network. His testimony will sound much like what was said in Seattle about the public's airwaves.
"One day there is going to be just one cable company or one big broadcast company," he said during a telephone interview. "We don't own these licenses; they are just loaned to us. Locally, we have to promote competition and diversity of voices. You do away with these, you are not going to have that diversity locally."
While media regulation issues are not partisan, the FCC is. Republican Chairman Kevin Martin and the other two Republican commissioners — Deborah Tate and Robert McDowell — will be in Nashville and were at the first hearing in Los Angeles. None of the Republican commissioners has shown up at an Adelstein/Copps hearing.
The partisan behavior hardened the last time the FCC reviewed media rules. In 2003, then-Chairman Michael Powell, a Republican, forced through disastrous rule changes against the will of Copps, Adelstein and millions of e-mails and letters from the public. A federal appellate court sent the rules back to the FCC.
Hopefully Martin, Tate and McDowell will listen to what they hear in Nashville. If they do, they will understand it is their duty to uphold the current media rules and consider new ways in which to drive creativity and localism back into American life.
Ryan Blethen's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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