FCC Hearings in Tampa on Media Ownership issues

05/01/07 Seán Kinane
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Last night at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in Tampa there was a public hearing on the Broadcast Media Ownership Review currently being conducted by the Federal Communications Commission. This was the fourth of six meetings around the country. All five members of the FCC attended; representatives from media activist groups, members of local media organizations, and the public all got a chance to voice their opinions on issues of media concentration. WMNF’s Seán Kinane reports. 



“Our media have an obligation to reflect this country’s diversity, they have an obligation to nourish this country’s diversity and it’s a job that is not getting done [applause].” 


That was FCC Commissioner Michael Copps who opposes attempts to relax the rules against media conglomeration.  


In 2003, then FCC Chairman Michael Powell orchestrated rules changes that stripped many media ownership rules that had kept companies from owning large numbers of media outlets or cross-ownership of more than one type of media in one market by a single company. But there was strong backlash from citizens followed in 2004 by a federal appeals court decision in Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC that overturned the changes to media ownership limits. But now many of those same changes are back on the drawing board. 


Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, the only other Democrat besides Copps on the five person FCC commission, said that media in Tampa are highly concentrated and that it’s even worse in some other places - all because of trends of greater media consolidation in recent decades. 



“It seems from the studies that I’ve seen, that a handful of companies dominate Tampa Bay TV and radio. Studies show that in television, two media companies control half of the total revenue. In radio three companies own almost half of all commercial radio stations in the Tampa market and control nearly 90% of the revenue. Only 4 companies control 73% of Tampa’s local news market and one of those companies alone controls a third of the market. Now, as alarming as these numbers are, Tampa is one of the better markets in the country, if you can imagine that, based on today’s very concentrated standards.” 


Commissioner Copps thinks that everyone concerned about the country should take media issues seriously. 



Even if media consolidation is not your number one issue, it ought to be your second most important. And that’s because all those other issues you care about are increasingly funneled through the filtered of big media. Now if you’re happy with how your number one issue is being presented and discussed as they come through that funnel, fine, you don’t have to listen to a thing I’m saying. But if you think that big issue might just benefit from a little more diversity of viewpoint and a little more competition, then you need to get involved.” 


The supporters of media consolidation or of cross ownership, also called convergence, said they were impressed with the charitable contributions of those media outlets, or their efficiency, or that they served their communities well in times of crisis such as hurricanes.


Tampa is one of the few cities in which a television station and major newspaper are owned by the same company, so it is looked to as a model for what might happen if cross ownership rules are relaxed. The corporation Media General owns both the Tampa Tribune and the NBC television affiliate in Tampa, WFLA Channel 8. Former member of Congress and gubernatorial candidate, Jim Davis, is currently a lawyer in a firm representing Media General. He said that cross-ownership of the Tribune and WFLA is beneficial. 



“But in my experience since the conversion, I believe there has been more hard news, less entertainment - not enough hard news for my taste, but still more - in both quantity and quality in the network that has experienced the conversion.” 


John Schuler is president of the Florida communications group of Media General and said that even though the Tribune is cutting positions, its local news coverage won’t suffer. 



“Media General has been able through convergence to grow its news content and to retain the news broadcast staffs. Mr. Klinenberg’s comments about the Tampa Tribune, reducing the staff by 70, what he didn’t tell you is no local beat reporters were among the 70. Local news coverage isn’t declining at Media General.” 


Eric Klinenberg was a panelist on the first of two Panel Discussions. He is an associate professor of Sociology at New York University and warned the audience about relaxing the restrictions on letting one company own both a television and newspaper in the same city. 



“With cross ownership, citizens are exposed to fewer perspectives than when TV stations and newspapers are separately owned. So now we have to ask: Who is going to benefit from cross ownership? In my view, it’s not journalists, it’s not citizens, it’s not cities, it’s not communities, it’s just a few corporations, which will become even more profitable than they already are if you get rid of this rule [applause].” 


Robert Dardenne is an associate Professor in Journalism and Media Studies at USF -St. Pete. He agreed with many members of the public in saying that media conglomeration doesn’t often mean better news coverage. 



“Economy of scale, certainly in news content shows little indication that it helps people who use news nearly as much as it does those who produce it. Merging media doesn’t elevate content as much as it streamlines operation.” 


Carol Jenkins is the President of The Women’s Media Center. She said that women are underrepresented in media ownership and decision-making positions. For example, only 5% of the television stations in the U.S. are owned by women. Jenkins pointed out some other injustices for women in media. 


“In mainstream media we hold about 3% of the titles that could be described most effectively as clout positions; 3%. Even here today, symptomatic perhaps of our problem, is that only 3 of the 21 panelists presenting here today are women. We’re glad to be here though.” 


More than 110 people spoke during nearly four hours of public testimony. Over 86 percent of them opposed any further easing of rules against media conglomeration. Here is a sampling of some of their comments: 


ACT - 2 min of clips of audience during public comment section 


That was Suzanne Willette, Gavin Baker, WMNF programmer Arlene Englehart, Arlene Hague, Phillip Hunt, Kevin Moore, Julia Perkins, WMNF reporter Brandy Doyle, Jane Aikrey, Kimberly Marcus, WMNF employee Beth Wolfe, and Bill Bocome.


 To find out more about the consolidation of media, visit the website stopbigmedia.com. To submit a comment to the FCC, visit triple-w.fcc.gov. For WMNF News, I’m Seán Kinane

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