The month of August 2003 is a time of unusual opportunity, and peril, for the media reform movement. Great forces are afoot.
On the positive side, as recent articles in this column have stressed, public support for media reform has reached an all-time high -- as evidenced by more than 2 million letters, E-Mails and Written Comments sent to Washington by everyday citizens, during May through July, to oppose the FCC's recent loosening of media ownership limits.
Congressional support for media reform has likewise reached a peak, undoubtedly as a direct response to the sudden surge of support from the general public. Legislation to restore the previous "caps" on nationwide TV ownership has now passed the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, legislation to restore all of the media ownership caps has been approved by the Senate Commerce Committee, and stands at least a 50/50 chance of approval by the Senate as a whole.
Or at least that's the way things looked when Congress recessed for the month of August.
On the negative side, the question is: While the U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators are back home this month, will they hear the same public outcry that they heard while they were in Washington last month? If they do, the adoption of some kind of media reform legislation by Congress, perhaps with enough support to deter or override a threatened Presidential veto, could become inevitable. If they don't ... some degree of Congressional backsliding could, and probably will, occur.
So that's CHALLENGE NO. 1 for the media reform movement, in August of 2003: Keep the heat on Congress. Those of us who advocate media reform can be sure that the large broadcasters are busily lobbying legislators this month. We must -- absolutely must -- make sure our voices are heard this month as well, or we are likely to find that we have lost ground when Congress reconvenes after Labor Day.
There are at least 2 ways you can help:
(A) Become Part Of "LPFM Summer". As the article in last month's column discussed, THE AMHERST ALLIANCE has recently launched a lobbying campaign for the month of August. Citizens are being urged to contact their U.S. Representative and U.S. Senators, before Labor Day, to call for: (1) legislation to restore all previously established limits on media ownership, rather than simply the national TV ownership limits alone; and also (2) legislation to adopt the channel spacing reform, to provide room on the radio spectrum for additional Low Power FM radio stations, that was recommended in a recently released MITRE Corporation report to the FCC. For more information on "LPFM Summer", please go to www.amherstalliance.org
(B) Sign The FREE PRESS Petition To Congress On Media Ownership Caps. A new group, FREE PRESS, was established this spring by Professor Robert McChesney, of the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana, and other media reform advocates at major universities. FREE PRESS has initiated a Web Site, at www.freepress.net, where it is recruiting signatories for a nationwide Petition To Congress in support of restoring all media ownership limits. At last count, the Petition had roughly 5,000 signatures -- or roughly .3% of the number of people who contacted Congress and/or the FCC during May, June and July.
Surely, supporters of media ownership caps can do better than this!! If you haven't signed the Petition yet, I urge you to visit www.freepress.net/petition, before Labor Day, and do so.
Here is CHALLENGE NO. 2 for the media reform movement, in August of 2003: Raise more money for the movement -- because more and more of the action is moving to Congress, and lobbying Congress is more expensive than lobbying the FCC.
Media ownership limits, and channel spacing reform for Low Power FM, are only 2 of the issues which have moved to Congress, from the FCC, for resolution. Given the FCC's current unresponsiveness to complaints about In Band On Channel (IBOC) Digital Radio and the proliferation of spectrum-hogging satellite-fed translator stations (aka "satellators"), these 2 issues could soon be brought before Congress as well. In addition, the slowly accelerating movement for a Low Power AM Radio Service could find itself approaching Congress in the near future.
This shift of forums is going to raise costs. While filings at the FCC are generally free, written communications to Congressional legislators must be Faxed (at $1.00 per page or more), sent by USPS Express Mail (at $4.00 per envelope or more) or sent by Federal Express-type services (at $14.00 per envelope or more) if they are going to be effective . E-Mailings, while better than nothing, carry little weight unless the volumes are truly massive. Further, due to post-9/11 security measures on Capitol Hill, snail mail communications typically take weeks to arrive -- if they ever make it to Congressional legislators at all.
Compounding the costs are 2 other factors. First: While FCC filings generally need to be filed only with the FCC, effective filings with Congressional Committees and Congressional Subcommittees must be sent, at a minimum, to both the Chairman and the ranking Member of the minority party. So Faxing, Express Mail or Federal Express-type costs, whatever they are, must be multiplied by 2 -- or more. Second: While face-to-face, in-person meetings are usually helpful at the FCC, they are sometimes essential on Capitol Hill. Thus, citizens and other activists may have to travel to Washington to make their cases.
My own advocacy group, THE AMHERST ALLIANCE, has voted to initiate Membership Drives in an effort to acquire more "financial resources" for the newer, and more expensive, battlefield of Capitol Hill. (To join us, visit www.amherstalliance.org) For the same reasons, other media reform advocacy groups are likely to be seeking more money as well.
You can help by saying "Yes", to one or more of the media reform advocacy groups, when we ask for Dues or donations.
As Jerry Maguire put it: "Help me to help you." Like it or not, this is going to take money.
COPYRIGHT 2003 BY DON SCHELLHARDT