FCC Vote Ignites Firestorm of Protest

Tuesday, when FCC Chairman Kevin Martin rammed through his plans to allow one company to own the major newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same city, he lit a fire under Congress and sparked outrage across the country. The response to the FCC’s decision to lift the 30-year-old newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban has been swift and promises to escalate in 2008.

In just 48 hours, more than 165,000 people have signed an open letter to Congress calling for Martin’s new rules to be overturned.

Burning Down the House

Although Kevin Martin has chosen to ignore the public, Congress is taking notice. Twenty-six senators sent a letter to Martin last week vowing to “immediately move legislation that will revoke and nullify the proposed rule.”

Less than 24 hours after the controversial FCC vote, Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) introduced the “Media Ownership Act of 2007” (H.R. 4835) – the House companion to a Senate bill (S. 2332) sponsored by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) — legislation that would overturn disastrous new media rules approved by the FCC.

“This legislation changes technical provisions but is simple in its message and effects,” said Reichert. “We want local media to remain local, diverse and free.” He continued: “We’re taking swift action to hopefully prevent these changes from affecting our communities and the families at home. I respect the free market and want a marketplace that allows corporations to operate as freely as possible. However, I believe it is a role of government to stand between corporations and consumers when the public interest is at stake. I will continue to do what I can to maintain a diverse, free and unbiased source of news for my constituents and across this nation.”

At a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing earlier this month, Congressman Inslee chastised FCC Chairman Martin for announcing the Seattle hearing on short notice. He said that Martin treated Seattle residents “like a bunch of chumps” by unveiling his new rules in a New York Times op-ed almost immediately following the hearing. Martin admitted at that hearing that he already had his mind made up and his editorial drafted before the Seattle hearing.

Carrying the Wood

When Martin’s rush to change this rule was first uncovered by the New York Times, Sen. Byron Dorgan promised that there would be a firestorm of protest and he would be “carrying the wood.” However, the public outrage at Martin and the FCC was smoldering long before his secret plans were revealed.

The public distaste for Martin’s plan was first exhibited at the FCC’s public hearings on media ownership and localism. Thousands of people showed up in Los Angeles, Nashville, Harrisburg, Pa., Tampa, Fla., Portland, Maine, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Seattle — sometimes with only a week’s notice — to testify against further media consolidation. In Washington on Halloween, Martin had to face spirited “FCC cheerleaders,” while in Seattle “media zombies” roamed the streets outside the hearing.

This kind of creativity was echoed elsewhere in the campaign and throughout the country. Chicago Media Action sang “carols” outside Tribune Co. headquarters. Activists built a Potterwatch Web site and recorded a “Wizard Rock” album to rally fans of the Harry Potter series against media consolidation. And a YouTube video opposing Martin’s early “Christmas gift” to Big Media has been watched nearly 80,000 times.

Those denied the opportunity to voice their opposition directly to all five FCC took their protest online. More than 100,000 individuals have contacted Congress and the FCC and thousands more have posted their pictures on a virtual wall of protest at StopBigMedia.com. A broad-based coalition of organizations has taken up this issue, including more than 20 civil rights groups that called upon the FCC to first address the media diversity crisis before considering any new rules. These diverse faces and voices are a powerful reminder that media consolidation is not just an inside-the-Beltway issue.

The fight is far from over. Martin’s insistence on pushing through this favor to his big business buddies is only going to fan the flames outrage across the country. It won’t be long until he gets burned.

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