That’s not some crazy media activist talking. It’s Barack Obama, back in 2008. So it’s almost unfathomable that Obama’s appointed FCC chairman is now rushing to gut the longstanding rules that limit how much one company can own in a single market.
These are the rules keeping Rupert Murdoch, the Fox News kingpin and phone hacker, from buying the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune – which he covets. Apparently, the FCC was hoping no one would notice the change.
Well, they’ve noticed. And the chorus of opposition against the FCC’s plans to gut longstanding media ownership rules is growing louder and louder. In just the past two weeks, some 200,000 people have taken action against the FCC’s move. Thousands more have called Congress.
It’s making a difference: A dozen members of Congress have weighed in with letters to the FCC urging them to stop the rush for more media consolidation. So have the nation’s leading civil rights organizations.
But why an Obama appointee is suddenly in such a hurry to do Rupert Murdoch’s bidding remains a mystery.
Remember that when the Bush-era FCC tried to make almost the exact same rule changes — allowing one company to own eight radio stations, two TV stations and the major daily newspaper in one town — it faced tremendous opposition.
Ninety-nine percent — 99 percent! — of the public comments the FCC received opposed the changes. And hundreds of people packed seven official FCC hearings in front of the full FCC. (Current FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski hasn’t attended a single public hearing on the issue.)
When the previous commission tried to sneak through almost these exact same rules, the Senate voted to throw them out. Among the leaders of that effort were Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, who are all on the record against this exact policy and the same kind of secretive, broken process.
And let’s not forget that the federal courts have twice rejected the FCC’s attempt to gut ownership rules — in 2004 and again in 2011 — for failing to share plans with the public and for failing to judge the impact on ownership diversity. In fact, the court ordered the FCC not to move forward with new rules without first studying the impact on women and people of color.
As four of the biggest civil rights organizations made clear in a letter sent to the commission yesterday, a survey of who owns what isn’t good enough. A longer public comment period — like the 30-day extension (to the day after Christmas) that the agency announced this week — isn’t good enough, either. The only thing that’s good enough is a thorough analysis of the rules’ impact. And that analysis must come first — not after the rules have already been changed.
We waited 13 years for the FCC to produce a simple census of who owns what — and that survey shows women own less than 7 percent of TV stations, and people of color own just 3.6 percent of those stations. That’s a travesty. All the existing data — and common sense — tell us that consolidation raises the barriers to entry and makes it next to impossible for new owners to get in the market.
So if there’s a rush, it isn’t for another handout to big media. It’s for the FCC to live up to its mandate to actually promote “localism, competition and diversity.” That means dealing with diversity first. Not after it’s too late and everything has already been given away.
As a wise man once said, “For too long now, the FCC has been putting corporate interests ahead of the people’s interests. It’s time for that to change.”
You might have heard of him. His name is Barack Obama.
Craig Aaron is president and CEO of Free Press. Aaron and his organization have been among those leading the charge against increased media monopolization.