The Federal Communications Commission is in Los Angeles today to test the public waters against its plan to loosen the last remaining curbs to media ownership.
If recent public comments are indication, those waters are still boiling hot since the last time the federal agency tried -- but failed -- to hand over more control of local airwaves to massive media conglomerates like Tribune Company, News Corp and ABC/Disney.
As FCC chairman Kevin Martin prepares for his first in a promised half dozen public hearings, more than 100,000 Americans have already filed comments opposing the chairman's plans to unleash a new wave of media consolidation.
But the public outcry in 2006 might not be loud enough to stop the powerful forces of corporate consolidation.
At issue is whether the parent companies of newspapers should be allowed to own TV and radio stations in the same market. If the existing rules are lifted, one company could dominate major media in a single market -- owning as many as eight radio stations, three television stations and a major newspaper. A majority of the five commissioners at the FCC have indicated their desire to sweep away the rules that would prevent this, and clear a path for "media company towns" in which local public discourse is dictated by a single national media chain.
When the FCC tried to push through similar rule changes in 2003, millions of people contacted the FCC and Congress to voice their opposition, sparking a congressional rebuke and a Third Circuit Court return of the rules to the FCC. The FCC is now seeking to rewrite the rules. While we have yet to see 2003 levels of public response in 2006, the Los Angeles hearing may ignite a broader outcry.
Martin's latest attempt to unleash consolidation is driven by the massive lobbying of the nation's largest media companies. Their motive is to fatten their wallets and not serve the public interest. Regrettably, this powerful media lobby has the ear of many at the FCC.
This is why speaking out in Los Angeles is so important. If you live within driving distance of one or both of the scheduled hearings today, do make the effort to get to the events. The StopBigMedia.com coalition has posted a number of resources (including fliers, posters, speakers' guides and parking information) that will help make your presence count. Volunteers also will be on hand to ensure that people get the chance to testify during the hearing.
Take a personal day off work, skip class, re-arrange your schedule and head to USC or El Segundo today.