From One Who Knows—The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) might seem like an impregnable fortress to public access channels and stations—or even to someone like me or you, who might want to call and give the commission a what-for on occasion. It's highly ironic that the organization overseeing the United States’ most powerful means of communication has few meaningful contact numbers or e-mail addresses available on its website.
Dem. Gloria Tristani sat on the commission from 1997 to 2001. She had a message for the Alliance for Community Media during her Q&A session Thursday, March 1, with the board of directors at Channel 27 headquarters in Albuquerque:
That goes for the rest of us, too, Tristani says. "You still need to stay active and involved in letting your members of Congress, as well as the FCC, know that consolidation is not good."
She's talking about media consolidation, the ability of a corporation to own a newspaper, radio station and TV station in the same market. The FCC was kicking around the idea of loosening the rules that govern ownership just last year, as it did in 2003. "If anything, they should tighten the regulations," Tristani says.
The threat is lessened with a Democratic Congress in place, she adds, but it's important for citizens and media-folk alike to keep their eyes on this issue. "The record is pretty clear, at least in the media world, when you don't have ownership caps, markets get very consolidated and diversity goes away."
Two other important issues to watch this year: the Internet radio merger and the aftereffect of overzealous obscenity enforcement. First, Sirius and XM, the two main Internet radio providers, are about to become one big company. Though everyone thought this was a done deal, the companies will still have to convince the Department of Justice there are no anti-competition issues. "When the FCC granted them special space, the commission said, 'We have to have two companies so they can compete with each other,'" says Tristani. Now the companies are arguing they have to compete with other online sources of music, like iTunes, and that they can't survive unless they merge. "If there weren't a Democratic Congress, that deal would go through much more quickly and without any kind of conditions," she says.
Finally, the FCC has gone so far in its enforcement of obscenity rules, Tristani says the effects are chilling speech. "They're undermining the whole idea of it," she says, which is, essentially, to protect children from being exposed to profanity during certain hours of the day. "They're protecting them in a world of 50 years ago." If the issue eventually is taken to court, and the court finds the FCC's gone way over the top in enforcement, it could be ruled that the anti-obscenity law isn't even constitutional, she says. "There's got to be a better way."
Contact your national representative to let them know where you stand on these issues. To find out about developments at the FCC, visit www.fcc.gov.