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Amendment One: The People Fight Back

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by Don Schellhardt

When I wrote this column’s article for May (HIGH NOON: Megacorporations vs. The Dixie Chicks -- And YOU?), the FCC was poised to vote on whether to loosen or eliminate any or all of the few remaining restrictions on how much of the mass media a single entity can own. Readers were urged to stand and be counted.

By early May, everyday citizens and small activist groups had already filed Written Comments in the thousands. A study by THE FUTURE OF MUSIC COALITION revealed that more than 99% of these Written Comments -- including a majority of the Comments filed by corporations -- were opposed to further ownership deregulation. Still, the fraction of 1% that favored loosened limits were filed by huge megacorporations, such as Clear Channel, Fox and Viacom. The “Notices” in Docket 02-277 show that many of these favorable Comments were supplemented by meetings, with FCC officials, behind closed doors.

However, in the last few weeks before the June 2 vote, the FCC proceedings were “discovered” by groups with major resources: notably, MOVEON, CONSUMERS UNION and THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION. By June 2, the FCC had received an amazing 750,000 E-Mails, letters and Comments against loosened limits.

Unfortunately, all of these filings, in the words of one columnist, turned out to be “like prayers to a stone god”. By a 3-2, party line vote, the FCC voted as follows:

--Raised national TV ownership limits from 35% of market to 45% of market
--Almost ended cross-ownership limits (e.g., newspapers owned by TV stations)
--Kept radio ownership limits, with possible modest rollbacks in small markets

Now the battle has moved to Congress, where The People are still speaking -- and even being heard by some. On June 19, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, chaired by Senator John McCain, R-AZ, approved an expanded version of S. 1046, sponsored by Senators Ted Stevens, R-AK, and Ernest Hollings, D-SC. The bill, which is now ready for a vote by the full Senate, would:

--Restore the previous TV ownership limits
--Also restore the previous cross-ownership limits (Thanks to an amendment offered in Committee by Senator Byron Dorgan, D-ND)
--Clarify that current law allows the FCC to re-regulate as well as deregulate
(Thanks to an amendment by Chairman Paul McCain, R-AZ)
--Require 5 or more geographically diverse Hearings before an ownership rule can be changed (Thanks to an amendment by Senator Barbara Boxer, D-CA)

See June’s SPECIAL “AMENDMENT ONE” SUPPLEMENT for information on where YOUR U.S. Senator stands -- and what you can say to him or her.


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