Senate Appropriations Committee
September 3, 2003
It is our understanding that during the markup of H.R. 2799–the State-Justice-Commerce Department Appropriations bill–two amendments relating to recent deregulatory actions by the FCC related to media ownership will be offered. Chairman Stevens will offer an amendment to restore the original 35% audience cap and Senators Hutchison and Dorgan will propose restoration of the ban on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership. The undersigned 13 national organizations, which collectively represent nearly one-half million workers in news and entertainment, strongly support these amendments.
We believe that the recent action by the Commission to eradicate substantially public interest rules on media ownership does our democracy irreparable harm. Deregulation of media ownership on such an unprecedented scale assures contraction of your constituentsâ first amendment right to what the Supreme Court has described as the ãuninhibited marketplace of ideas.ä
This unacceptable abrogation of regulatory responsibility by the Commission will now likely unleash a feeding frenzy of corporate acquisitions. More monopolistic cross-ownership of radio, TV, newspapers, the Internet and other media pipelines will result. In the process, citizen access to diverse sources of information and entertainment will be vastly reduced and the quality of news and entertainment will be further compromised.
In todayâs already highly concentrated media market-place, robust competition and ownership diversity are essential to the health and viability of these twin sectors. We are convinced that FCC deregulation of this magnitude was ill-advised and that the U.S. Congress must now step in and take action.
The amendments which will be offered will:
1. Fully restores the ban on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership (Hutchison/Dorgan)–When the cross-ownership rule was adopted by the FCC in 1975, the Commission concluded that it is ãunrealistic to expect true diversity from a commonly owned station-newspaper combination.ä 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 nationâs 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 todayâs 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.
2. Restore the 35% national audience cap (Stevens)–This provision will prevent a media entity from owning or controlling television stations whose aggregate national audience reach exceeds 35 percent. In effect this legislation rolls back the recent action by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to increase the cap to 45%. By generally limiting media concentration in television through a lower cap, S. 1046 is an important first step to restoring a measure of balance to the media marketplace that will advance ownership diversity, protect the independence of non-network owned stations and promote localism by limiting the programming dictates and economic leverage of the media giants.
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.
We hope that you agree and that you will give the FCC regulatory-rollback amendments your fullest support. Thank you for your consideration.
|Actorsâ Equity Association||Patrick Quinn, President|
|American Federation of Television and Radio Artists||John Connolly, President|
|American Federation of Musicians||Thomas F. Lee, President|
|Communications Workers of America||Morty Bahr, President|
|Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO||Paul E. Almeida, President|
|Directors Guild of America||Michael Apted, President|
of Electrical Workers (Broadcast Division)
|Edwin D. Hill, President|
|International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees||Thomas C. Short, President|
|National Writers Union (UAW 1981)||Marybeth Menaker, President|
|The Newspaper Guild, CWA||Linda K. Foley, President|
|Screen Actors Guild||Melissa Gilbert, President|
|Writers Guild of America, East||Herb Sargent, President|
|Writers Guild of America, West||Victoria Riskin, President|