Statement of Common Cause President Chellie Pingree on Reports of the Resignation of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell

According to today’s Wall Street Journal, Michael Powell has said he will resign from his position as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. If the Journal’s report proves to be accurate, Powell’s departure offers the Bush Administration an opportunity to demonstrate that it truly believes in the principles of what the President touts as the “ownership society,” naming as a replacement a chairman who truly believes that it is the public, not corporations, who own the broadcast airwaves.

Powell was a disaster for the public, not because he was some corrupt government official who was on the take from big media. Powell appeared to be an honorable man who simply held to the wrong beliefs, staunchly contending that competition would solve all our concerns about diversity of voices, adequate news and information, and a media that helps viewers become citizens. He talked about all the sources of news and entertainment now available to us, the 500-channel universe, but did not seem to understand that almost all the providers of this information were owned by the same handful of media giants.

Whoever replaces Chairman Powell must do better. The American public deserves a regulator who puts the needs of viewers and listeners above the profit considerations of conglomerates, who understands that localism is not an empty phrase, but one that is crucial to democracy, who believes that diverse owners of local media outlets will better respond to community needs. We need a chairman who also will advance a media vision based on access to the Internet that is open to all, and whose content is not dictated by a few corporations.

When Chairman Powell proposed sweeping media deregulation rules in 2003, more than two million Americans contacted the FCC and Congress to voice their opposition. The public is clear about what it wants from government regulators – an assurance that what they see and hear does not come from one or a few corporate sources, and that multiple viewpoints be represented on our mass media. A new chairman would be wise to listen to the people.

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