A standing-room only crowd of more than 500 Angelenos packed into USC's Davidson Conference Center today to speak out against media consolidation.
The event, the first of two official Federal Communications Commission hearings held in Los Angeles, gave the public and leaders of the city's creative, labor and civil rights community a chance to tell all five FCC commissioners how proposed changes to media ownership limits would adversely affect their lives and work.
"The decisions we will make about our ownership rules will be as difficult as they are critical," Chairman Kevin Martin said in his opening statement in Los Angeles. "Public input is critical to this process." Martin pledged to convene at least five more hearings before the agency makes a decision on proposed rule changes.
The event featured panel discussions with elected officials, civil rights and labor leaders, entertainers, policy analysts and public advocates. In speech after speech the presenters and the public urged the FCC commissioners to address an appalling lack of diversity, localism and competition in U.S. Media.
The citizens of Los Angeles sent a clear message about how the public airwaves should be used to serve the public interest, not the financial priorities of a few big media corporations. The FCC must first address the concerns raised in Los Angeles and in all proposed FCC hearings before rewriting rules that limit media consolidation.
"The media are vital to our democracy," said Congresswoman Diane Watson. "We want to create a true free market where everyone can have a seat at the table. We need to ensure that the power of American entrepreneurialism is not stifled by just a few media giants."
"There is a gap between those who own the airwaves -- the people the public -- and those who control the airwaves and act against the public interest," said civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson, who cited a recent Free Press study that shows an appalling lack of minority- and female-owned television stations across the country. "Media ownership should look like America."
"Our watch word in this discussion is that the airwaves belong to the American people and we believe it's time to take them back," said John Connolly, national president of AFTRA. "That is our desire and our objective and we believe that it is the FCC's job to serve our interests."
"When the local programming decisions are prohibited by a remote corporate parent, the public interest is not being served," said Tim Winter, executive director of the Parents Television Council. "I urge the commissioners to listen carefully but separate the special interests from the public interest and base your decisions on what you hear here today and what best serves the public interest."
Following the panel, the five commissioners listened to dozens of citizens -- some waiting in line for more than two hours to get into the hearing -- who expressed concerns about the quality of local news and programming, lack of diversity over the airwaves, and the barriers placed on independent content and local control by Big Media corporations.
"In today's marketplace, being fired from one station is like being fired from eight stations," said longtime broadcaster and AFTRA member Bernie Allen. "How do you expect these corporations to give us a diversity of opinion if they can't even give the marketplace a diversity of programs?"
"What is the point of spending time on a creation that you know will be taken from you?" said Sally Hampton, an independent writer, producer and director. "These conglomerates do not have any incentives to work with true independents."
"I personally feel that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was a disaster. It made my station worth a lot more money. But that's not the point. It's the public interest that matters," said Saul Levine, a local radio station owner. "Radio is the town hall of America. But it's small, family-owned, independent operators that count. There's no public benefit to allowing Clear Channel to have more stations. It will drive me out of business."