News Headlines from the Feb. 9 Mediageek Radioshow

Next FCC Public Hearing In Harrisburg, PA
As the FCC’s media ownership rules revision process rolls on, the Commission has announced that it will hold its third official public hearing on February 23 in Harrisburg, PA. The first two were in Los Angeles and Nashvile. The entire commission should be in tow for this one, where the general public is invited to comment on media ownership issues, especially ones that related to their local market.

The Commission also has its monthly open meeting scheduled for the same day, so it’s unclear whether the five commissioners plan to scoot up from DC to Harrisburg the same day, or if they’ll cancel the open meeting.

Net Neutrality Threatened in Canada

I know that there are a number of Canadian listeners to the podcast and to our late night broadcast on CKDU in Halifax. It appears that the debate over Network Neutrality is heating up north of the border, too. The Canadian Press reports that it has obtained documents showing that advisers to Minister of Industry Maxime Bernier are leaning towards supporting the telecommunications arguments against network neutrality regulation.

Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, told the CP that the documents show a very one-sided industry view of the subject, saying that they would “not be out of place in a lobbying document crafted by the telecommunications companies.”

The Minister’s net neutrality documents apparently advocate a position similar to what we’ve heard from the big telcos in the US, calling for having market forces shape the evolution internet infrastructure, while providing some degree consumer choice and protection. Yet there is very little about the arguments in favor of network neutrality, which is a much bigger issue than so-called consumer choice.

Meanwhile, south of the border, network neutrality has gotten a bit of a boost with the failure of last year’s Republican-sponsored telecom bill to pass the Senate, and now with the democratic-controlled congress. The Dorgan-Snowe Internet Freedom Preservation Act has been introduced, again, and is awaiting action by the Senate Commerce Committee.

Bush Attacks CPB Budget, Again

In his new budget, President Bush has not missed an opportunity to take a swipe at public broadcasting, asking for an approximately 25% cut in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting budget — at least $114 million of the $460 budget. . The Association of Public Television Stations said the total impact could be as high as $145 million when cuts in related programs are added, including a program to upgrade radio station satellite facilities. In addition to the cuts, the traditional advance funding for future years’ programs would disappear, potentially making it harder for public stations to commit to future TV programming.

Without a doubt this is bad news to public TV and radio stations that rely heavily on CPB funding. However, I can’t help but reflect on what we heard from Fairness and Accuracy In Rerporting’s Peter Hart on last week show, and how this conservative Republican attack on public broadcasting is just a repeat of the same old cycle that forces friends of public broadcasting to fight for crumbs, and be happy when the cuts are as bad as initially suggested, even though broadcasters get their crumbs by sucking up to the right-wing.

Predictably , has launched an online petition to oppose Bush’s proposed cuts. Taking rhetorical advantage of the new Democratic Congress. The petition calls on lawmakers to “save NPR and PBS once and for all,” by guaranteeing “permanent funding and independence from partisan meddling.”

Interestingly enough, this does sound quite a bit like what FAIR advocates for public broadcasting – to make it truly independent and not subject to annual budgetary attacks.

Indeed, true political independence and freedom from the yearly budget cycle would do a lot to save public broadcasting in the US, especially public TV. But that still doesn’t address public broadcasting’s increasingly commercial nature as seen in its reliance on corporate underwriting and grants, which also influence broadcasters away from controversial public service programming.

To reduce the influence of corporate financing, the current funding for public broadcasting would have to be greatly increased, not just maintained at current levels.

Somewhat luckily, threats to the CPB budget have less impact on community media, which tends to rely much less on CPB grants. The mediageek radioshow home station, WEFT, receives a small annual grant for program acquisition, which helps allow the station carry many very good syndicated programs. However the grant does not contribute significantly to basic operation. This is true even for larger community stations and the Pacifica network. A cut in CPB funding would probably hurt all of community radio, but not constitute the same kind of threat that it does to public broadcasting.

Generally speaking, the media reform movement has pinned a lot of hopes on the new Democratic Congress, even if past Democratic Congresses haven’t always been quite such protectors of the public interest in media. It will be interesting to see how many of these priorities, like protecting public broadcasting, will actually make it onto the larger Congressional agenda.

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