Broadcasting: Significant or marginalized


Tuesday 11/3/09 was the watchdog round at day two of the FCC’s three-day media ownership workshop tied to its Quadrennial Review of the rules. The polar opposite positions for the day were these: Either broadcasting is a significant force in society and ownership rules are of high importance; or broadcasting is increasingly marginalized and nobody wants to buy stations, so there’s no point in reviewing the rules at all.

The latter view came from former Media Bureau Chief and Michael Powell colleague Ken Ferree, who was instrumental in the review that led to the infamous and largely failed 6/2/03 ownership dereg attempt. Ferree, now with The Progress and Freedom Foundation, said broadcasting is rapidly becoming a non-factor, along with newspapers, and if there is any hope for its survival its for the government to get out of the way and let professionals try to find a way to salvage what they can.

Media Access Project’s Andy Schwartzman disagreed – in fact, his first remark was, “There are very few people I enjoy disagreeing with more than Ken Ferree.” He said that over-the-air television still blows cable audiences out of the water; that newspapers are the biggest single media outlet in most cities; and that over-the-air radio is still a major local force. He maintained that all three will remain at the top of the media heap for the foreseeable future, and warrant appropriate FCC oversight.

Ferree was the only panelist advocating a light regulatory touch.

Radio stations will cringe at the testimony of Future of Music’s Kristin Thomson, who wants massive amounts of data collected by the FCC, particularly focused on determining the amount of local v. syndicated v. network programming at each and every station in the US. Anticipating broadcast shrieks of onerous and burdensome record-keeping, she said it would be made simple via computerized record-keeping.

Cheryl Leanza of the United Church of Christ and Derek Turner of Free Press represent interests that have fought media consolidation, and remain true to those principles. They joined in the call for useful data, accessible by researchers for study and analysis.

Schwartzman called for the ownership proceeding to remain as narrow as possible, and said that the issues of localism and diversity are better addressed in concentrated form under the proceedings that are already under way for each.

Commissioner Michael Copps made a brief appearance, echoing his remarks of Monday, 11/2/09. This one new point was to bemoan the lack of media coverage of Day One of the workshop.

RBR-TVBR observation: It’s ironic. The witness who would grant the most freedom to broadcasters is the one who almost comes close to insulting the medium with regard to its alleged declining influence. Those that testify to broadcast’s continuing importance are the ones who would apply the most shackles.