Common Cause takes a seat at the table to represent the public interest

Statement of Celia Viggo Wexler, Vice President for Advocacy, Common Cause

at FCC hearing on the digital transition

It is not surprising that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell would hold a major meeting on the content of television in the digital age with panels dominated by the broadcast industry and seemingly no thought to the participation of those groups and individuals representing the public interest.

This is the same Chairman who was able to dismiss the comments of nearly three million Americans opposing media consolidation, and who seems to have little patience for dialogue with members of the public about what they need from the media.

One of the goals of this meeting is to devise a strategy to educate the public about the benefits of digital television. But it is broadcasters, not consumers, who first have to be educated.

Chairman Powell’s FCC should educate broadcasters about their obligations to serve the public in specific, quantifiable ways. Without such guidance, digital technology will only allow commercial television to become an even vaster, more profitable wasteland. Many broadcasters will use their digital channels to continue to deliver lowest-common-denominator programming, but will fail to provide the coverage of local issues and state and local elections that every democracy depends on for informing their citizens.

Common Cause may not have a seat at the Chairman’s table, but we will work to ensure that the voices of our 300,000 members and supporters will be heard at the FCC and in Congress. The airwaves belong to the public, and democracy demands a diverse, vibrant, broadcast media that provides viewers with the information they need to govern themselves.