Senator attacks proposed cross-ownership relaxation


FCCBernie Sanders (I-VT) took to the OpEd page of the Boston Globe to decry the “stealth” effort of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to encourage further media consolidation. Sanders said his request for a six month delay and public hearings on the matter was rejected.

“The FCC, under Chairman Julius Genachowski, proposed rule changes that would allow greater media consolidation,” wrote Sanders. “As Americans across the nation were celebrating the holidays, a federal agency was tying a bow on a gift for big media conglomerates. To avoid public scrutiny, the Federal Communications Commission used the holiday lull to propose rule changes that would allow greater media consolidation in big cities. A vote by the FCC could come any day now.

Sanders noted that the similar deregulation proposal from Kevin Martin was rejected both by Congress, the courts and the public, and further noted the lack of diversity among America’s media owners.

Sanders made particular mention of the possibility that a rule change could put the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune into the hands of News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch.

“We must not allow the FCC to run roughshod over the public on such a sweeping change to our media consolidation laws,” Sanders concluded.

RBR-TVBR observation: The charges of stealth are greatly exaggerated. We’ve known this was the likely upshot of the FCC quadrennial review for a long time now. The proposal has long been available for public comment. If it seems like it just suddenly came up, perhaps that’s due to a lack of paying attention.

Let’s deconstruct this a bit: The FCC is not given a budget to mount a major advertising campaign every time it issues an NPRM. Most citizens are utterly unaware of what the FCC does, and are unaware of this issue.

The public hearings held before the last attempt to relax cross-ownership back in 2007 did not attract mass audiences – they attracted stakeholders and activists. It really was one of those if-you’ve-seen-one-you’ve-seen-them-all situations. Finally, we don’t believe there was any intent whatsoever to sneak this through over the holidays – in fact, Genachowski could have voted on it back in December, but granted extra time at the request of activist organizations and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to consider recently-released diversity statistics.

And even if the FCC had interrupted an NFL playoff game to debate the issue and hold a vote, we can tell you what the vast majority of Americans would have done: Changed the channel.

The issue has been addressed and the opportunity to comment has been given. We think it’s better to hold the vote, and then get the reaction process under way on Capitol Hill and in the courts, if either or both are in the cards.