What’s Next For Media Reformers?

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Common Cause convened a June 25 meeting of public interest, labor, religious, screenwriter and consumer groups working on media reform to discuss the next steps following our momentous victory in the courts. On Thursday, June 24, a U.S. district court in Philadelphia told the Federal Communications Commission that it had to reconsider its sweeping deregulation of media ownership, prompting Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell to express “deep disappointment.” The court also said it would block the FCC from implementing any of its new media ownership rules — approved June 2, 2003, despite major public opposition — until the agency comes up with a better justification for approving the rules, or modifies the rules based on the court’s opinion.

If the relaxed ownership rules had been allowed to go into effect, they would have allowed one corporation to own the local newspaper, up to three TV stations, up to eight radio stations, and the local cable system in one media market. That would severely limit the number of voices and independent sources of news and information on the airwaves, a real threat to an informed democracy.

The court decision was a huge victory for media reform. FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein called the decision a “vindication for the vast majority of the American public who opposed these rule changes.” FCC Commissioner Michael Copps agreed, noting that it demonstrates that the “rush to media consolidation approved by the FCC last June [2003] was wrong as a matter of law and policy.”

But the court’s decision and its stay of the June 2 rules are not absolute. The Bush Administration could appeal the court’s decision to the Supreme Court.

That’s why it is so important to rally hundreds of thousands of media activists to urge President Bush to agree to the court’s decision blocking sweeping media deregulation, and not to appeal that decision.

If the Administration were to appeal the third circuit decision, its action would demonstrate that the Bush White House cares more about the priorities of media conglomerates than the right of the American public to have a diverse, independent media that offers them the information they need to participate in their democracy.

We also have to use this time, when the FCC must review its sweeping deregulation, to make clear the public’s views on media consolidation. Last year, as the FCC thought it could flout the will of the public and approve the rules, the agency held just one public hearing, in Richmond, Virginia. Commissioners Copps and Adelstein held informal hearings in major cities at which hundreds of citizens showed up and expressed their opposition to media concentration.

“The Commission now has a second chance to do the right thing,” Copps said. He has called for the FCC to hold public hearings throughout the country “designed to give citizens true access to the decision makers at the agency, and to seek to gain a better understanding of the impact of media concentration on our communities.”

Common Cause needs your support in demanding that that the FCC hold hearings across the nation, giving citizens a real opportunity to air their views on media consolidation.

But the fight against media concentration cannot be fought just in the courts. We must take our fight back to Congress. Last week, the Senate approved an amendment by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to a defense authorization bill that that would permanently roll back the FCC’s rules. The House version of the same bill does not contain the same language, so a team of House-Senate negotiators could strike out the Dorgan amendment in the final bill.

We must not let this happen. Once these House-Senate negotiators are appointed to decide the bill, Common Cause will launch a grassroots campaign urging these lawmakers to do the bidding of the public, and not the media giants, and keep the Dorgan amendment in the final bill.

We must also take our struggle to congressional and presidential campaigns. We will be urging activists to question congressional and presidential candidates about their position on media reform. Do they support a diverse, independently owned broadcast media that serves the public by providing local, state and national news and information? Or do they favor the status quo where a handful of huge corporations own most of the sources of our information?

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