Archive | August, 2003

Copps Calls Powell’s Bluff

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, the staunchest opponent against loosening media ownership rules on the Commission, released his own statement in answer to Chairman Powell’s announcment of a new “task force” to study the effect of media consolidation on localism.

The man says it best himself:

“This proposal is a day late and a dollar short. It highlights the failures of
the recent decision to dismantle ownership protections. To say that protecting localism was not germane to that decision boggles the mind. The ownership protections, as well as the other public interest protections that the Commission has dismantled over the past years, are all designed to promote localism, diversity and competition. We should have heeded the calls from
over 2 million Americans and so many Members of Congress expressing concern about the impact of media concentration on localism and diversity before we rushed to a vote. We should have vetted these issues before we voted. Instead, we voted; now we are going to vet. This is a
policy of ‘ready, fire, aim!’

“We now hear that there may be localism issues after all. But what’s going to happen while we study localism over the next year? The answer is: deals, deals and more deals. The answer is more standardized and homogenized programming. The answer is more indecency on the people’s airwaves. The answer is less diversity of viewpoint and less coverage of local
issues. …”

Read the full press release yourself in a .pdf document.

You can also read Powell’s announcement of the media ownership task force in a .pdf doc.

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Powell Shaken? Or Is He Spinning?

Today FCC Chair Mikey Powell held a press conference announcing the formation of a task force to study the effect of media consolidation on localism, especially local TV news. He acknowledged the public and Congressional outcry over the recent rules changes and even promised that the task force will hold public hearings.

Finally, Powell promised to accelerate the processing of low-power FM radio license applications, which have been moving at a glacier pace since Powell took over. Of course, there was no word on what the FCC will do about the Mitre report (prepared by Congressional mandate), which says that many more LPFM stations can be safely put on the dial without interference to existing high-power stations.

So, the obvious question is: to what do we owe Powell’s softening on the ownership issue? Or, is this really a softening?

Let’s recall that prior to starting its review of media ownership rules the FCC commissioned a whole series of reports from scholars, communications analysts and FCC staff, examining the effects of consolidation on the broadcast media.

Of course, the results of these studies were mixed and occasionally contradictory, but overall lacking in real depth.

Here’s some of my comments from back in October, 2002, when the reports were released:

“When these studies do dive into more qualitative inquiries, they’re standards for judging ‘quality’ are thin and ever so unchallenging. In “The Measurement of Local Television News and Public Affairs Programs” the authors are attempting to see what effect the ownership of local network TV stations–whether they’re owned and operated by the network (O&O) or independently owned affiliates–has on the quality stations’ local news and public affairs programming. They measure this by looking at the awards stations win, the stations’ ratings, and the total hours of this programming.

Although the total amount of hours of news and public affairs does give some indication of a station’s commitment to public service, it’s utterly laughable to assert that a station’s ratings are any indicator of quality. Does anyone remember when the freakin’ Dukes of Hazzard was the #1 show in the US? Nevermind that Survivor was the #8 show just last week (Friends was #1). Can anyone argue with a straight face that Survivor was better than the 30 or so shows below it, like 60 Minutes or even the Sopranos?

Judging the quality of a station’s news programming by the awards it wins is not a bad measure, but is completely dependent upon the nature of the awards. The most problematic aspect of awards is that they’re given only relative to other news programs. This means that a station that wins is only better than other stations in its league — so if they all suck, the winner just sucks the least.

Little suprise, then, that the results of these studies were largely interpreted to support loosening media ownership rules, in that they concluded that ownership had little effect on “quality” by their measure.

I bring up this little bit of history to demonstrate that simply studying the topic of media ownership and diversity doesn’t necessarily mean anything. What really makes the difference is who is on the task force and what methods they use to do their analysis.

Even while announcing this task force and giving the faint impression of mild contrition, Powell stuck to his ideological guns on the effect of ownership:

Powell told reporters the public criticism reflects real problems with dwindling local content. At the same time, he said, “I don’t necessarily think you have to have an owner live down the street to be responsive to localism.”

And so, it’s not out of the question to think that Powell’s just looking for the task force to back up his ideologically cemented position.

Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America has a similar theory, telling Reuters:

” “In my view this is pure duplicity. Ownership is the key to what gets on the air.”

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Indianapolis Bookstore/Infoshop Raided by Police

Per a report made to News:

“Thursday, August 14th, at approximately 9:00 pm. After forming an initial perimeter in the 2 blocks around the collective space, the police proceeded to pull over 2 cars as they tried to leave, claiming minor traffic infractions. The police then moved in on the space itself. Tickets were issued to many of the cars parked outside, as fire marshalls demanded entry to make a safety inspection. These marshalls lacked any documentation of a complaint or report, let alone a warrant. Nevertheless, they not only entered the house, but they were accompanied by police officers who were supposedly protecting the marshalls. These police officers then searched every room in the house, including the personal belongings of the collective members who live on the second floor.

These police officers were shortly followed by officers with the ATF, bomb squad, and the Seattle Police Department (who stated that they were acting as consultants to the Indianapolis Police Department over the weekend). There were no weapons or other contraband in the space.

It’s interesting that the fire inspectors were used as an excuse to enter the space, only to bring in a whole array of cops, including ones from Seattle. Back in May fire and building inspectors were also used to gain entry to two collective spaces in St. Louis, one of which houses the St. Louis IMC, eventually shutting down one of them, Bolozone.

Just a day before the St. Louis raids, the Urbana IMC was also temporarily shut down by fire inspectors, without warning. Although no cops were involved, Urbana’s mayor expressed extreme hostility towards representatives of the IMC who demanded explanations for the action, that city officials eventually admitted was an overreaction.

I don’t doubt for a minute that all aparatus of local, state and federal government are being called on to join in the harassment of those who are working for a better way of life. The Indy cops were apparently looking to strike fear into organizers of protests against the upcoming National Governors’ Association meeting that happens there soon.

On the bright side, the infoshop volunteers were able to mobilize over 30 people to quickly come to the space to witness and videotape the cops, and no arrests were made. Infoshop and protest organizers are asking people to come to the protests, which start today, in order express solidarity and support.

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More on RFPI

The English language Costa Rican news site AM Costa Rica has a story on the RFPI lockdown/eviction, “Is there anyone in favor of negotiating now?” (scroll down):

“The radio station, in turn, went over the head of Martin Lees, university rector, last weekend and sought support from the 17-member University for Peace Council, the organizationÂ’s supreme authority. Members come from many countries. Some 10 members are named by the secretary general of the United Nations.

“Radio for Peace officials believe that the council was unaware of the eviction effort by Rector Lees. …

“The university has said, and the station agrees, that the university is owed money. “

Glenn Hauser’s World of Radio program covered the situation briefly at the beginning of his Aug. 6 program, which you can listen to on-line.

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