In our view: Many Voices Needed

FCC brings back a failed idea, that media ownership should be allowed to consolidate

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Concentrating media ownership in the hands of a few large companies would corrode Americans’ freedom to receive news from a variety of competitive sources. Congress knew this four years ago when it shut down the Federal Communications Commission’s attempt to allow large corporations to simultaneously own newspapers and TV and radio broadcast companies in the same city.

Alarmingly, the FCC is back again, trying to exhume a public policy corpse whose final resting place should remain undisturbed. Last week, the FCC announced it would try once more to allow media giants to even further dominate the news business. As we pointed out in a 2007 editorial, cross-ownership within media markets “would lead to fewer voices as corporate chains dictate news policies and editorial stances at multiple sites nationwide.” That should worry Americans of all political persuasions.

We hope resistance to this monopolistic meandering is as furious as it was in 2007, when the Third Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the FCC’s attempt to loosen media ownership rules. Certainly, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is willing to take up the same banner. Last week, she correctly concluded: “While increased media consolidation may be good for Wall Street, it is bad for Main Street. This decision will determine whether Americans have access to independently gathered news from diverse voices in their local communities. The American people deserve better than this proposal.” Cantwell also said changing the rules would be “merely a bailout for big media companies that incurred debt from poor investment decisions.”

To be clear, a 2007 Columbian editorial explained: “As one of the few independently owned newspapers in America, we believe local autonomy is best for our readers.” We also cited a comment by Columbian Publisher Scott Campbell in 2003: “The free flow of information in a democracy is not served by having fewer owners. Localness, diversity and accountability ought to be the foundation of media ownership, and the proposed changes work against those objectives.”

A similar perspective is offered by The Seattle Times, another strong advocate of independently gathered and reported news, which declared in a Monday editorial that the FCC has “tried to put a happy face on media consolidation that erodes news gathering and further denies access to ownership by minorities and women.”

And U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, said: “The large media mergers allowed under this proposal will result in fewer local jobs and fewer local choices. The FCC should have focused on growing the voice of the public, not drowning us out.”

In 2007, Kevin Martin, FCC chairman at the time, tried to soften the blow by including only the nation’s 20 largest media markets in the proposed change. But as commissioner Michael Copps noted, that would embrace “over 43 percent of U.S. households.” Copps is still serving but has announced his retirement from the FCC at the end of this year.

At the state level, an eloquent assessment of this issue was made a few years ago by Gov. Chris Gregoire, who said consolidated media ownership “stifles creativity and content. It narrows perspectives available to each of us as citizens, and it is unhealthy in a society that rests on principles of equality and diversity.”

And there is the description by Frank Blethen, publisher of The Seattle Times, that absentee media ownership is “a disinvestment in journalism, causing serious erosion in America’s public policy literacy and civic engagement.”

All of which should leave Americans asking incredulously: What is the FCC thinking?