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National NOW Times >> Summer 2002 >> Article

Feminists Must Speak Out Against Loss of Media Diversity

by Lisa Bennett, Communications Director

Editor's Note: Just last fall, the National NOW Times reported on the media merger frenzy that could extinguish women's public voice. Less than a year later, the situation has already become more dire.

The 'Billionaires for More Media Mergers' showed up at the March 22 FCC action, mocking the super-rich moguls who would profit from further de-regulation of the media.

The "Billionaires for More Media Mergers" showed up at the March 22 FCC action, mocking the super-rich moguls who would profit from further de-regulation of the media. At center is Jennifer L. Pozner of Women in Media and News (WIMN), one of the organizers of the protest along with NOW.

Imagine the newspaper that you read, the TV shows you watch, the music and traffic reports you listen to on the radio, even the web sites you visit all coming to you from just one or two sources. Soon information and news in the U.S. may be controlled by forces even larger and more powerful than those that already exist.

Giant corporations are gobbling up as many media outlets TV stations, cable systems, newspapers and radio stations as they can swallow. In their race for media dominance, these companies are squeezing out what little diversity remains in the marketplace. And the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is supposed to ensure that broadcasters "serve the public interest," is more than happy to lend them a hand.

On March 22, NOW participated in a protest outside the FCC, where activists demanded that the agency halt further media consolidation and act to preserve the openness and diversity of the Internet. The demonstration was organized by a coalition of media democracy, women's rights and other civil rights organizations.

NOW's Membership Vice President, Terry O'Neill, was among the speakers: "The FCC must hear from the people. We are speaking out against the media merger free-for-all that is threatening to rob us all of the independent voices, views and ideas that nourish a pluralistic, democratic society."

Under the direction of FCC Chair Michael Powell (promoted to his new position by George W. Bush), the government agency is embracing big business, which is eager to leave the interests of the public and local communities in the dust. The FCC now appears to be headed down the path of relaxing or eliminating the last few regulations governing media ownership. In addition, Powell is presiding over the FCC at a very critical time for the Internet, and again he is taking his cues largely from the industry giants that will control Internet access.

Here's where the current media regulations stand:

1. On March 14 the FCC approved a policy that excuses cable operators from any obligation to provide non-discriminatory access to broadband Internet. This means that consumers will have to choose from a small number of Internet service providers determined only by the cable owners.

2. Last month an appeals court overturned the rule that prevents one company from owning both television stations and cable systems in a single market. The FCC can challenge the decision, but that is unlikely.

3. The same court told the FCC that it hasn't provided ample justification for the regulation which prevents one single broadcaster from owning TV stations that together reach more than 35 percent of U.S. homes. The FCC can now choose to repeal the rule, modify it or attempt to justify its necessity.

4. Last year an appeals court voided the restriction on one cable provider serving more than 30 percent of all U.S. subscribers. The FCC must now clarify the reasoning for the rule, or the agency can choose to raise the cap to a higher percentage or scrap the rule entirely.

5. The rule that says one company cannot own both a TV station and a newspaper in the same market is under review. The FCC has finished collecting comments and a decision is expected by the fall.

6. The rule prohibiting one company from owning two TV stations in a single market (unless there are at least eight separately owned media outlets in the market) may also come under review, although exceptions to this rule have already been made in the past.

7. The FCC is also looking at the rule governing ownership of multiple local radio stations in a single market and another restriction on the ownership of both local radio stations and TV stations in a single market.

With the above regulations out of the way, what's to keep rich conglomerates from scooping up the last independently-owned media outlets?

"The media are more than just a business; they bring information to people that affects their lives," says O'Neill. "We cannot have a healthy democracy, and women cannot pursue equal rights, if we are uninformed on the issues. The media have a responsibility to serve the public interest and ensure that all voices are heard."

Send a letter to the FCC, connect to NOW's Media page or call 202-628-8669, ext. 123 for more information on media activism.

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