Accuracy in Media

As reported earlier by Cliff Kincaid, the  November 8th Senate Committee Hearing on “Localism, Diversity, and Media Ownership” likely precedes a concerted effort by Congress to reform digital, radio, and print media. Although not officially designed to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine, the hearing’s participants betrayed many of the same attitudes which could lead to greater government regulation of content, scalability, ownership?and now even ethnicity.

If Congress follows the advice of this committee’s carefully selected witnesses, a comprehensive reform agenda could soon sweep all areas of broadcast media. “[Congress] must keep all current FCC ownership restrictions and public service mandates in place…craft new FCC mandates to ensure internet freedom… institute a ban on cross-ownership of national print and national broadcast outlets as a companion to the local cross-ownership ban… push for limits on newspaper ownership,” urged witness Frank Blethen, the President and CEO of The Seattle Times.

Blethen has been lobbying against media consolidation since at least 2002, when he told a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign audience that “if democracy is to survive we must change the course of this terrible trend toward media concentration, and invigorate a diverse and independent press whose primary mission is news and public service.” He proposes that Congress show strong, “bold” leadership to “save our free and local press.” “This is a historical moment. The American citizen needs your leadership,” he added.

Surprisingly, Capitol Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) President Jim Goodman also argued for greater government content regulation. He wants minimum public interest standards to replace the ethereal, undefined requirement that the media serve the “public good.” Goodman proposed a comprehensive, sequential reform agenda for media communications. “So we do minimum public interest standards, we come up with a disclosure so we can really see how we’re doing?some information that makes sense?we do the digital transition, and then we look at ownership,” he said.

While an emphasis on localism and diversity seems superficially innocent, the hearing’s proceedings greatly echoed the legislative agenda of the radical left non-profits, the Center for American Progress and Free Press. Their July 2007 study, “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio,” concludes that talk radio airs significantly more conservative programming than progressive shows. They suggest that government-encouraged ownership diversity and greater localism could serve as a remedy to increase progressive programming. “Ownership diversity is perhaps the single most important variable contributing to the structural imbalance based on the data…stations owned by women, minorities, or local owners are statistically less likely to air conservative hosts or shows,” concludes the study (emphasis original).

Alex Nogales, President of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, asserted at the hearing that the 10 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) studies were inadequate and biased on the issue of diversity. He “wholeheartedly supports” the Free Press studies as a replacement for government research. “I should tell you that the [FCC] studies are very, very inaccurate, that the ones that have been brought out by Free Press are much, much better?and they’re recent!,” asserted Nogales. Could he perhaps be referring to this July’s joint CAP-Free Press research which suggests that conservative radio is an arbitrary phenomenon imposed upon the American people?

Foreshadowing the debate over media content likely to eclipse minority ownership issues, Nogales complained about the hostile radio coverage that Hispanics had been receiving during “the debate over undocumented workers.” Referring to it as no less than a “hate crime,” he argued that “The megaphone offered to the odious brand of hate speech comes compliments of radio conglomerates… [who] care little for the political and cultural impact of their programming.”

With a witness-list conspicuously stacked four to one against media consolidation, the Commerce Committee left no doubt that it intends to pursue an agenda in direct confrontation with the FCC’s attempts to loosen local cross-ownership rules between newspapers and radio stations. Five of the nine Senators present referred to the media as a public interest commodity, arguing that media conglomerates conflict with this goal. “And while increased media consolidation may be good for Wall Street, it is certainly bad for Main Street,” said Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA). Congress thinks it knows better than both.

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