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Media ownership hearings open in Los Angeles

Media ownership hearings open in Los Angeles

The concentration of media ownership by a few large corporations came under attack as the U.S. Federal Communications Commission opened a series of hearings on the issue.
"Without diversity in ownership and participation, our democracy is in danger," Congresswoman Maxine Waters said Tuesday at the initial hearing held at the University of Southern California.
Waters, a Los Angeles Democrat, and others criticized ownership of the Los Angeles Times and KTLA-TV by Chicago-based Tribune Co.
Speakers said the situation stifled competition and diversity of local opinion.
The FCC is reconsidering a number of broadcast ownership rules, including whether a single company should be able to own both a newspaper and television station in the same market.
The last time the agency revisited the ownership rules was in 2003, when it voted 3-2 to raise the national audience cap for television station owners, lessen restrictions on how many radio and television stations a company may own in the same market and allow for cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations in some instances.
The decision sparked a popular revolt, congressional action and a federal appeals court decision that resulted in most of the rules being sent back to the agency for reconsideration.
Tribune is hoping the FCC will eliminate the current ban on a single company owning a newspaper and TV station in the same market.
In the meantime, the media company has asked the agency for a waiver so it can renew its broadcast license and retain ownership of both properties. The station license expires Dec. 1.
Waters said she would campaign against the waiver and recited a list of newspapers and television and radio stations owned by Tribune.
"If that's not concentration, I don't know what is," she said to loud applause from the more than 500 people at the hearing.
That view was echoed by Congresswoman Diane Watson, also a Los Angeles-area Democrat, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
"The Tribune Co. that owns the L.A. Times and these other stations operates out of Chicago and not L.A., and there is something about that that is inherently undemocratic," Jackson said.
The media ownership issue has not reached the same level of interest as it did in 2003, when the FCC was besieged with complaints from media consolidation foes on both the right and the left. This time around, the marquee issue _ the national broadcast audience cap _ is off the table.
After the FCC voted in 2003 to expand the number of American households a single television broadcast company could reach from 35 percent to 45 percent, Congress intervened, setting the limit at 39 percent _ the same percentage of viewers that the nation's two largest television broadcasters, News Corp. and CBS Corp., reached at the time.
Tuesday's hearing was dominated by entertainment industry workers including actors, directors and writers who joined in urging the FCC to allow independent producers greater access to vertically integrated media conglomerates that produce, own and distribute their own programs.
"Homogenization is good for milk, but bad for ideas," said Patric Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, west.
Industry speakers were sometimes cheered by the crowd and emphasized they were speaking for working actors and writers, not the select few high-profile millionaires.
"It's important to note we are not the voices of distant elites who care only about ourselves and our nose jobs," said John Connolly, president of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists.
Mike Mills, bass player for the rock group R.E.M., said local artists today do not have the same chance to build a regional or national following because radio stations are owned by a few large companies and are often programmed from distant locations.
More than 50 individuals spoke to the full FCC, which listened, but did not question the speakers.
Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell was criticized for conducting only one public hearing three years ago before the commission voted on the media ownership rules. Current FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has taken a different approach, promising six meetings in all, with future sites yet to be announced.
In addition to the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule, the FCC is also seeking comment on radio and television station ownership limits in a single market and whether one company should be permitted to own two of the top four networks.
Clear Channel Communications Inc., the largest U.S. radio broadcaster with about 1,200 stations, is lobbying the FCC to increase radio ownership limits in the largest markets, such as Los Angeles.
The ownership rules exist because the broadcast airwaves are owned by the public and the law requires that the public interest be considered in how they are regulated. Too much control over the broadcast media in a market is deemed not in the public interest, though limits have been loosened over the years.
Those in favor of liberalization of the ownership rules say that with cable television and the Internet, citizens have many new outlets to choose from and the rules, most of which are decades old, are no longer relevant. Opponents say there may be new outlets, but they are still owned by the same giant media conglomerates.
As for Tribune, the third-largest newspaper publisher may get smaller rather than larger. As the company's stock price has dropped, it has been under increasing pressure from shareholders to sell off pieces of the company.
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Associated Press Writer John Dunbar contributed to this report.
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On the Net:
http://www.fcc.gov


Updated : 2021-05-16 02:26 GMT+08:00