These are the news headlines as read on the June 2 edition of the mediageek radioshow: New FCC Commissioner Opens Floodgates for Chairman’s Agenda; Senators Urge FCC to Address the Public Interest; FCC Investigates TV Stations Airing Fake News; Ebay Joins Coalition to Save the Internet (this one actually didn’t make it onto the show).
New FCC Commissioner Opens Floodgates for Chairman’s Agenda
With a hold on his confirmation in the Senate finally lifted, new FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell was sworn in by Chairman Kevin Martin. With the addition of McDowell, a former telecom lobbyist, the FCC has a full five commissioners, three of them Republicans, for the first time in more than a year.
With his first Republican majority Chairman Martin has announced a number of controversial issues he would like the FCC to begin taking up as soon as the Commission’s June 15 meeting.
At top of the list is a proceeding to revisit media ownership rules. The FCC’s last rewrite of the rules, which included major loosening of restrictions on TV station ownership, were thrown out by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004.
The FCC’s two democrats, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, were harsh critics of the FCC’s last go at loosening ownership rules, and continue to express strong opinions on the matter. Copps and Adelstein were also critical of then Chairman Michael Powell’s bull-in-a-chinashop approach to that proceeding, refusing to hold more than one public hearing on the issue, and loudly dismissing the concerns of public interest groups.
But two Senators think the FCC has some unfinished business to attend to before it tackles media ownership. Republican Trent Lott of Mississippi and Democrat Byron Dorgan of North Dakota have written a letter to Chairman Martin urging him to finish a proceeding begun in 2003 to address the public service obligations of broadcasters.
In the letter, they write,
“The FCC must first establish that there are sufficient mechanisms in place to ensure that broadcasters are serving their local communities before any loosening of ownership can occur.”
That 2003 public interest proceeding began life as a smokescreen maneuver by then-chairman Powell to draw attention away from his effort to loosen media ownership rules. Powell claimed that public interest concerns were a separate issue from ownership and should be tackled in their own proceeding.
Chairman Martin may have done at least one thing that will make public interest groups a little bit happier. The FCC has launched an investigation into dozens of television stations that aired airing corporate-sponsored and -scripted segments on news programs, without disclosing their sources.
As reported here on mediageek back in April, the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy spearheaded an investigation that revealed 77 TV stations that aired these so-called “fake news” segments over the course of a 10 month period. All the segments were disguised to look like regular news stories produced by the station, and viewers were not informed of their origin or sponsorship.
The stations cited in the report include those owned by nation’s largest owners, including ABC/Disney, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Nexstar.
In the wake of revelations about federal government produced Video News Releases being aired by local TV stations without attribution the FCC warned stations in April 2005 that fines would be levied for airing fake news.
If the FCC finds a station guilty of wrongdoing, each instance could result in a fine of $32,500.
Ebay Joins Coalition to Save the Internet
Opposing forces in the war over the future of the internet continue to line up along battle lines, with the side favoring a free, neutral net gaining strength with an increasingly broad coalition. One group that recently joined is the Christian Coalition.
And Ebay CEO Meg Whitman threw her hat in the ring on May 31, sending an email call to action to the auction site’s user base, urging them to “personally get involved in a debate in the U.S. Congress” over network neutrality.
In the e-mail, Whitman said, “It might be hard to believe, but lawmakers in Washington are seriously debating whether consumers should be free to use the Internet as they want in the future.”
She continued, “The phone and cable companies now control more than 95 percent of all Internet access. These large corporations are spending millions of dollars to promote legislation that would divide the Internet into a two-tiered system.”
For its part, the telephone industry Astroturf group TV4US has been conducting a supposed telephone survey asking phone customers loaded questions like, “The internet is going to be more expensive, because big companies like Microsoft and Google are wasting all our bandwidth. Do you think consumers should pay for that? Or should the big companies that are wasting the bandwidth pay for that?”
The telephone company’s are spending big on their lobbying and PR efforts to defeat net neutrality. They’re weekly investment in TV ads alone are estimated to be costing them in excess of $1 million per week.
By comparison, the SaveTheInternet coalition estimates that it has spent a total of just $10,000 so far, relying instead on true grassroots organizing.
As I reported on last week’s show the “Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006” passed the House Judiciary Committee on May 25 and is now headed to the House Floor for a vote after Congress returns from the Memorial Day recess.
The Senate Commerce Committee held two hearings on its version of a telecom bill that could contain net neutrality provisions just before the recess. That panel is scheduled to markup that bill on June 20.