CHRONOLOGY -- JULY 21-NOVEMBER 10, 2003:
The MoveOn Team
September 8th, 2003
Last spring, MoveOn members joined with members of groups from Common Cause and NOW to the NRA to voice our opposition to an FCC rule change that would alter the dynamics of the American news media. The rule change proposed to tear down old boundaries that controlled how much of the media in a given community (and in the entire country) could be owned by one company.
After over 2 million Americans wrote the FCC to oppose the change, the FCC chairman, Michael Powell, pushed through the rule change anyway, in a 3-2 party line vote. But Congress was watching, and when we asked Congress to roll back the rule change, Senators and Representatives on both sides of the aisle were listening.
In July, the House struck down one piece of the rule change by a 400-to-21 vote. It was a big win, and media companies were shocked. As big contributors to both political parties, media conglomerates had assumed that their bottom line would be Congress' first priority. "Never before have I seen an FCC chairman's decision repudiated by the House of Representatives so quickly and so emphatically," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA).
So, in August, the media companies fought back. They launched a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign, using distorted polls and misleading advertising to twist the arms of members of the Senate.
Now, in the next week, the final vote on rolling back the FCC rule change will come to the Senate floor.
Here's a great fact sheet on the current situation, from the Consumer Federation of America.
MEDIA OWNERSHIP FACT SHEET
Major FCC Rules under consideration:
1) National Broadcast Cap: Limits percentage of the national audience that one network may reach to 35%. New rules lift percentage to 45%.
2) Cross Ownership Rule: Bans mergers between newspapers, radio stations, and local television broadcasters. New rule would lift the ban in over 80% of markets.
3) Duopoly/Triopoly Rule: Prevents one company from owning more than one major television station in most markets. The new rule would allow one company to own three stations in about 20 markets and one company to own two TV stations in an additional 100 markets.
If the FCC's rule stands, one news entity could control more than half of a local news market, and more than two thirds of the reporters in that same market.
The number of independent owners of media outlets has declined in the last 25 years. Since 1975, two thirds of independent newspaper owners have disappeared (from 860 to 290). Since 1975 one third of independent TV owners have disappeared (540 to 360). The FCC's order sets the stage for a further reduction in independent media ownership.
Most Americans -- 80 percent -- still get their news from local TV and newspapers. Allowing consolidation between those main sources of local news on the premise that the Internet and cable television have become the primary source of local information is not market reality.
The US Court of Appeals 3rd Circuit last week blocked the FCC media ownership rule changes, citing adequate evidence that the petitioners may have a legitimate legal case. The rules were stayed from the scheduled September 4th implementation because of the irreversible damage they might cause before a rollback could be enacted.
BUSH ADMINISTRATION VETO THREAT
CauseNET For July 25, 2003
Bush Administration Ignores Public Outcry and Threatens VETO of Bipartisan Effort to Rollback Controversial Media Ownership Rules
The American public made it clear - they didn't like the FCC decision - and both Democrats and Republicans in Congress agreed.
The fight to roll back the controversial changes to media ownership rules that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved in June has enjoyed broad support in Congress and attracted the attention and concern of Americans from across the political spectrum. Nearly two million Americans told the FCC they opposed the new rules, and growing numbers continue to contact their elected officials in Congress to urge them to support a rollback of the rules.
The issue has emerged from the obscurity of a regulatory commission to ignite the formation of a coalition of organizations and individuals from the left and right that is rarely seen in our country. Now we have a new threat to our efforts.
The media industry has spent more than $124 million on political contributions and lobbying in Washington since 1995. Media interests are pressing Congress not to roll back the ownership rules because media consolidation will increase their profits. They are asking the White House to block any congressional rollback of the FCC rules.
The Bush Administration is threatening to veto legislation that would restore safeguards against further media consolidation. The Administration has warned Congress that, "If this amendment were contained in the final legislation presented to the President, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill."
We need to tell President Bush to listen to the American people, not to the media industry or his "senior advisors."
ANOTHER MEDIA REFORM VICTORY IN THE HOUSE
Free Press, July 24, 2003
Because of public pressure, the U.S. House
overwhelmingly approved an appropriations bill that blocks one of the FCC's new
rules. The bill prohibits expanding the number of American TV viewers one media
company may reach to 45%. It holds the cap at 35%. This is great news, but it's
The national TV cap is the least substantive rule change. The rules relaxing bans on newspaper/broadcast cross ownership and local TV consolidation (duopolies) are what really hurt media diversity and independence. The White House and the Republican majority in Congress oppose repealing these rules. Nonetheless progressive Democrats made a bold effort. A full roll back was included in the Hinchey-Price-Inslee amendment that we petitioned on Tuesday after the Republicans tried to derail support by calling a surprise vote.
Thanks to you, phones rang "off the hook" according to House staffers. In the hours before the critical vote, voices from the public changed minds in the Congress. Although the amendment lost, it received a remarkable 174 votes, including 34 Republicans -- far more than insiders thought possible. Getting a strong vote was the mission, and we accomplished it. We needed to show legislators that there is strong support in the House for the full FCC rollback.
The complex Congressional process now takes the FCC rollback on two possible paths:
1) The strong showing in the House on appropriations gives repeal-minded Senators exceptional leverage in the House/Senate conference negotiations on this bill. One or more rules are likely to be rolled back in this conference.
2) The Senate is pursuing a parallel strategy. A "Resolution of Disapproval" that would repeal all of the FCC rules has strong support in the Senate and has a good chance of passing in September. It would then come to the House for another fight.
The House-Senate appropriations conference won't happen until September. In the meantime, we are working tirelessly to ensure that the Senate is skillfully coordinated and that the House Democrats are unified when this comes back to the floor.
After years in which media companies have rolled their agenda over Congress with few objections, Congressman Inslee said a "tsunami" of public pressure was starting to change the course of Congress. He was right. Growing numbers of Americans are realizing that real democracy demands democratic media, and Congress is listening - thanks to you.
Go to http://www.mediareform.net for more information on the fight in Congress and media reform efforts across the country.
To see how your Representative voted on the important Hinchey/Price/Inslee amendment, check out: http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2003&rollnumber=407
Free Press, July 22, 2003
When the cross-ownership rule was originally adopted by the FCC in 1975, the Commission concluded that it is “unrealistic to expect true diversity from a commonly owned station-newspaper combination.” This is as true today as it was over two decades ago. Back then, three-quarters of all dailies were owned by local families. Today, most cities and towns have only one newspaper and most of the nation’s 1,500 dailies are owned by national chains. Gannett now owns one out of every seven newspapers sold in the U.S. Along with Knight Ridder and the Tribune Co. they account for one-quarter of all daily newspaper circulation. In local broadcasting, behind today’s seeming variety of television choices are in reality five behemoths: Disney (which owns ABC), Viacom (CBS and United Paramount Network), AOL-Time Warner (the WB), News Corporation (Fox), and General Electric (NBC).
The elimination of the cross-ownership ban will
over time likely lead to a reduction from four (one paper, three TV) to three in
the number of separately-owned local news media outlets in most media markets.
Co-owned newspaper and broadcast stations will merge news operations--as they
have where these combinations already operate under FCC waivers or grandfather
arrangements--thus eliminating a separate, distinct, and independent voice. The
result: According to The Project for Excellence in Journalism growing
consolidation in the news business has led to a serious decline in the quality
and quantity of local news as distant corporate media executives demand cuts in
news budgets to boost profits.
Restoration of the cross-ownership rule is vital to preserving what remains of independent, local voices in news and information reporting. Should economic circumstances require it, the previous cross-ownership rule had allowed the FCC to grant waivers based on local market conditions. This was an appropriate mechanism to deal with markets in which cross-ownership might serve the public interest by saving a failing newspaper or broadcast station.
In the news and information business, competition and diversity help preserve localism in news coverage, enhance the quality and comprehensiveness of news content, assure a multiplicity of voices from a variety of independent sources and reduce the risk that news will be censored or slanted by a few controlling interests. In the entertainment sector, they stimulate the kinds of creativity and variety in programming that the American public has come to expect but that has significantly diminished since the FCC repealed the Financial Interest and Syndication Rule in 1993.
In our democratic society, media ownership matters. It matters because ultimately it is the deciding factor that determines what your constituents have access to in news, entertainment and information. Most importantly, it matters to our democracy because an informed public is the bedrock of our free and open society. For more information on media reform and how to get involved, go to http://www.mediareform.net.
MEDIA CLOUT TRUMPED!
CauseNET for July 21, 2003
Last week about 75 television network executives descended on Capitol Hill to tell Congress that the nearly two million Americans who have voiced their opinion on the new FCC media ownership rules are wrong – the network power play didn’t work.
==> ACT NOW:
The strong bipartisan movement in both chambers to restore the FCC rules made significant progress last week. The House Appropriations Committee basically voted to restore the ownership cap to its original 35% limit by refusing to fund the implementation of the regulation. In the Senate, the bipartisan Stevens-Hollings bill, picked up six additional co-sponsors, Senators Bob Graham (FL), Hillary Clinton (NY), Jack Reed (RI), Saxby Chambliss (GA), Joseph Biden (DE), and Norm Coleman (MN).
We must keep the pressure on because this legislation needs to move quickly through Congress. Why? The clock is ticking. Unless Congress acts, the FCC can put these new rules into effect, perhaps as early as September- if Congress does not overturn these rules before it officially comes time to begin to implement them, much will be lost! In the House, that means supporting H.2052, and S.1046 in the Senate.