At the Eleventh Hour We Already Know We’re About To Be Screwed by a Bigger Media Monopoly

Coverage and activism on the FCC’s impending media ownership rules review are reaching a near fever pitch, many months late in the game. I find it both facinating and frustrating that issues like this one have to get down to the wire before arousing any real attention from the press and any kind of critical mass of activists. This rules review has been over eight months in the making and the FCC fired its first salvo back in October.

Regulatory decisions tend to be very anti-climactic. The decisions are made through the long process of proceedings, comments and lobbying, not in the actual vote. Rarely do regulatory decisions result in surprise by the time the vote comes around — the writing is almost always written in neon on the wall. If you’re lobbying the FCC right before it makes a vote, you’re too damn late.

To whit, this week the FCC’s Democratic commissioners begged their peers to delay the June 2 decision deadline so that there could be a public airing of the actual proposals that the Commission will vote on. Predictably, on Thursday they were rebuffed by Mikey Powell, who never intended to involve the public in this process, and sure as hell isn’t going to change his mind now.

Although I’m critically pessimistic about the ability of anyone to change the minds of the Republican FCC majority at this point of the game, I do not dismiss the value of bringing greater public attention to the issue, whether or not it affects the FCC in this vote. Many organizations, like the Center for Digital Democracy and the Media Acess Project, have been on this issue from the start, and it is good to see their efforts to arouse a sleeping public are starting to gain opened eyes.

As I commented two weeks ago, the FCC is only a pawn (or maybe a knight) in a larger game. Congress makes the laws that frame and dictate what the FCC can do. Only Congress can really fight back the media consolidation monster.

So, perhaps it is more promising that a bipartisan group of senators, including anti-consolidation stalwart Fritz Hollings and even Trent Lott, have sponsored a bill to keep the television station ownership cap pegged at the current limit of reaching 35% of US households. It is widely believed that FCC Cahair Powell and fellow FCC republican Kevin Martin have reached a bargain that would raise this limit.

Senate Commerce Committee Chair John McCain has said he will hold a hearing with the FCC Commissioners after they release their decision. So, at the very least, Powell and his buddies stand to weather a good brow-beating from unhappy senators, whatever their end decisions are.

If the intensifying lobbying efforts and public campaigns can be turned on legislators, then perhaps Congress can be moved to undo the media monopoly landslide they all but guaranteed seven years ago.

But I’m not nearly confident enough to take bets on that.






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