On Friday night, some 1,000 people packed the Seattle Town Hall to say no to the Federal Communications Commission's plan to let the largest media companies further consolidate ownership. And it wasn't just a bunch of lefties.
The heavy hitters were there, and they gave the FCC Chairman an earful. Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire , Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, Republican Congressman Dave Reichert, and Republican County Councilmember Reagan Dunn all offered testimony against consolidation, along with other Democratic leaders. "I'm a Republican and I'm a capitalist. But some areas of our private sector must be regulated," said Dunn.
These leaders and the hundreds of activists who also testified that night understand that the US media is flooding us with celebrity gossip, sound byte news coverage, and hypercommercialsm that is failing to provide the information that democracy requires.
But FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has made it clear that he doesn't care one bit. The White House-appointed chairman of the five-member commission is one of Washington's dwindling class of hard core Bush loyalists, and he plans to remove some of the last remaining media ownership limits before the end of the year. Seven years ago, Martin was a 33 year-old GOP attorney sent by Team Bush to lead the Florida recount. His wife is a former senior counselor to Vice-President Cheney, and now serves as a deputy assistant to President Bush.
In keeping with the Administration's staggering disregard for the public interest, Martin is ramming the rule changes through despite more than 99% of the public voicing opposition to further media consolidation. Despite the fact that racial and ethnic minorities make up 33 percent of the U.S. population, yet only own 7.7 percent of full-power radio stations and 3.26 percent of television stations.
Many people who spoke at the hearing, including the Democratic Commissioners said they are certain that Martin and his two fellow Republican commissioners have already have made up their minds. If the FCC quickly proposes new rules, "you know your input was dismissed," said Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein at the Seattle hearing.
In 2003, the public will was heard loud and clear. Nearly 3 million people - from the left and right - protested the FCC's partisan vote to remove some of the same rules. The outcry caused Congress to vote to overturn the new rules, and a federal court eventually sent them back to the FCC. It was a firestorm, and as Chairman Martin moves at the behest of Big Media companies and the White House, he is throwing himself in front of a busload of public opposition. Senator Dorgan (D-ND) said in a recent hearing that when that firestorm erupts, he "would carry the wood."
The Seattle public hearing was the last of six public hearings that Martin promised to conduct before bringing the issue to a vote. Martin caused an outcry when he announced the event with just six days notice. He did the same thing a week earlier with a hearing at the FCC in Washington.
But the short notice didn't matter. At both hearings, overwhelming majorities offered impassioned testimony about how poorly the media are covering local, national, and international issues. They spoke about the importance of local, diverse and critical voices, and the adverse effect of profit-obsessed conglomerates buying up local TV, radio and newspapers. Martin was spanked.
And, the two Democrats - arguably the best FCC commissioners in the history of the agency - continue to oppose Martin at every turn. On the day of the hearing, Commissioner Michael Copps said "The people's airwaves should be used to add diverse voices and to encourage local content, rather than bringing in more homogenized, nationalized and sterile corporate 'entertainment' and letting Big Media shut down the civic dialogue upon which the future of our democracy rests."
All eyes are now on Kevin Martin. If he moves for a vote this December, the outcome will be determined by the size and volume of public opposition. It will hinge on whether enough Americans say, in the words of the Howard Beale in the legendary 1976 film Network, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"