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UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "media concentration"

FCC's Shameful Assault on Access to Information, Implications Widespread

The following can be attributed to Cheryl A. Leanza, policy advisor to the United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, OC Inc., in response to several votes today at the Federal Communications Commission:

In today’s string of votes, we see Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai agenda unleashed on the United States.  He coyly waited until after his Senate confirmation vote and the most recent Congressional oversight hearing to unleash an unprecedented attack on civil rights and access to information.  The most vulnerable are feeling the most harmful impact.  Tribes, the most in need of affordable accessible communications, will see their subsidies immediately cut and their lands redefined without intergovernmental consultation.  Low income people must anticipate damaging changes as the Commission plans to cut off almost 70 percent of its subscribers and then proposes to add insult to injury with more draconian cuts in the form of a budget cap, lifetime limits on benefits, and more.

Today’s media ownership vote will take effect immediately:  it is not a proposal.  The ruling cuts back and eliminates rules that have been in place since the beginning of broadcast regulation.  We are losing rules that were designed to protect economic competition as well as competition in the marketplace of ideas.  No one looking at today’s media environment could imagine that the FCC, today, would see a media environment in need of fewer fact-checked news stories, fewer journalists, and reduced numbers of independent locally accountable news outlets--but that is what we will get.

This vote puts the final nail in the coffin for ownership diversity at the FCC.  This year’s Trump FCC fully exploits the failings in last year’s vote, which ignored the record in an effort to hide the connection between ownership and content.  The incubator proposal is meaningless, particularly in a consolidated media environment like the one we are about to experience.

With these actions, the Trump administration lays groundwork for less access to information and less voter education and engagement, which increases the likelihood that elections can be skewed by unverified news stories intent on confusion and manipulation. The forthcoming vote on net neutrality will further diminish freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas online.

One rule now stands between the Trump FCC and approval of the Sinclair merger.  Sinclair is poised to fully exploit the rule rollbacks adopted today and waits expectantly for Chairman Pai’s promised revisions to the national TV ownership cap.  Congress set the national TV ownership cap by statute in 2004, but Chairman Pai has promised to change it, evading the statutorily-set limits on FCC power.  After that illegal change, the Sinclair merger will set the state for a new breathtaking wave of consolidation as other media companies rush to catch up.  Congress must ensure the FCC does not evade the limits of its statutory authority.

Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker, founder of the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry, OC Inc., dedicated his life to accountable and local broadcasting.  I am ashamed that so much of his amazing life's work is being tossed in the trashbin today.

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Trump Federal Communications Commission Keeps Its Dark Promises

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, like Donald Trump who appointed him, intends to keep his promises. His dissents as a minority Commissioner made clear his plans. This month, after squeaking through his confirmation vote in the Senate, he finally brings out the big guns.

He is fulfilling his promise to gut the FCC's program to assist low income people with the costs of telephone service and broadband.He is fulfilling his promise to turn over the media marketplace to a few, huge owners, while offering women and people of color a fig leaf of paper ownership that conveys no equity rights. And he intends to fulfill his promise next month to turn over Internet freedom to the control of a few large corporate ISPs. These are just a few examples of the decisions that will be adopted next month and the month after, some of which will be almost impossible to reverse if he succeeds.

Not only is he keeping his promises, he is again attempting to disguise them with technical terms and doublespeak that, heretofore, could only be found in George Orwell's dystopia. Thus, he attacks low-income households in a docket titled, "Bridging the Digital Divide for Low-Income Consumers," and his decision to ignore the pleas of civil rights leaders is called "Rules and Policies to Promote New Entry and Ownership Diversity in the Broadcasting Services." Could it be the Commission is secretly ashamed of its actions, using these euphemisms to disguise their favors for corporate America at the expense of the rest of the country?

Perhaps he uses these terms because he knows he is undermining the chances that anyone can question his decisions. The steps he is taking will tip the balance even more toward benefits for the privileged, leaving the most impacted behind, favoring fake news against fact-checked journalism. These decisions combined will mean less access to the Internet, less free speech on the Internet and more inflammatory, uniform broadcast content in cities and towns across the country. If he succeeds, as long as the names sound pretty, the dark effects underneath will be ignored.

The agenda released last night make clear that the Ajit Pai threat is terrifying, and it is no innocent Halloween joke. The scars of the Trump Administration continue, and with these decisions it may be that no journalists or activists will retain the tools needed to challenge them.

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Public Interest Groups on Court Ruling Clearing Way for FCC to Erode Rules Allowing Further Media Consolidation

For Immediate Release: June 15, 2017

Contact: Courtney Holsworth, courtney@balestramedia.com, 989.572.8162

 

Public Interest Groups on Court Ruling Clearing Way for FCC to Erode Rules Allowing Further Media Consolidation

 

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied the emergency stay motion filed by public interest groups, including the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Free Press, Common Cause, Media Alliance, and United Church of Christ, OC, Inc., which sought to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from implementing its decision to reinstate the so-called UHF discount. This will allow the FCC to make it easier for the nation’s largest television ownership groups to acquire additional stations, and crowd out diverse and local voices.  The groups are represented by the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center. Despite this interim ruling, the Court will hear the appeal later this year.

 

The FCC’s April, 2017 decision issued overturned a ruling issued in September, 2016 by an new Commission majority created after two Obama Administration appointees left the Commission. It allows large TV groups to evade a cap on how many stations they own by counting only half of the audience of UHF frequency TV stations towards a Congressionally-established limit of 39% of the nation’s TV homes. This undermines the goals of the Communications Act to promote localism, competition and diversity.

 

In the wake of the FCC’s decision to reinstate the discount, on May 8th Sinclair Broadcast Group announced plans to purchase Tribune Media TV stations for $3.9 billion. The deal would create a broadcast colossus with more than 200 TV stations, and would result in Sinclair reaching more than 70 percent of the national audience with stations in large cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas. However, by reinstating the technically outdated UHF discount, this large deal would mean that Sinclair would be in compliance with the 39% ownership limit.

 

Read more about the case here: http://bit.ly/2qXEz96

 

“The Court of Appeals’ decision to allow the reinstatement of the UHF discount makes it easier for huge ownership groups to take over the media market, at the expense of Latinos, media owners of color and local voices that seek to serve their diverse communities,” said Carmen Scurato, director of policy and legal affairs at the National Hispanic Media Coalition. “The DC Court has cleared the way for massive consolidation, negatively impacting the thousands of owners and consumers that this appeal represented. The FCC has a mandate to act in the public interest yet by reinstating the UHF discount, Chairman Pai has signaled that he is on the side of big media conglomerates that want more control of what we see and hear on the airwaves.”

 

“We're disappointed by the court's decision to deny the stay, but still plan to show the unlawful nature of the FCC's arbitrary and capricious decision under review in this case,” said Gaurav Laroia, Policy Counsel at Free Press. “Chairman Pai's decision to revive this obsolete rule would allow broadcast consolidation far beyond the already high limits set by Congress. And that would grease the skids for companies like Sinclair to cash in, acquiring other media conglomerates like Tribune with the merger those two companies proposed last month. Runaway broadcast consolidation at the national and local level is bad for competition, diversity and localism in broadcasting. Sinclair's practices are a prime example of how consolidation undermines those three principles, with its penchant for dictating coverage to local affiliates and intervening in the editorial decisions of the stations it owns.

 

“Chairman Ajit Pai, President Trump’s appointee at the Federal Communications Commission, is a full partner in the Trump Administration's attack on the press,” said Cheryl Leanza, Policy Advisor at United Church of Christ, OC, Inc. “With his decision to put an obsolete rule back on the books, Chairman Pai will devastated the American public’s access to multiple points of view from hard news sources. We look forward to a positive result when the court reviews the substance of this irrational and dangerous decision.”

 

“The UHF discount has long outlived its usefulness,” said former FCC Commissioner and Common Cause Special Adviser Michael Copps. “Reinstating it was a huge, unwarranted gift to Big Broadcast. So it is disappointing that the court did not rein in the broadcast-friendly majority at the FCC. We remain committed to halting the wave of media consolidation the FCC majority has sought to unleash.”

 

“The petitioners in this case regret the abrupt reinstatement of the admittedly obsolete UHF discount rule to aid a single corporation. Rushing through yet more media consolidation in a hasty and ill-considered manner is no favor to the public's increasing frustration with the media,” stated Tracy Rosenberg, Executive Director at Media Alliance.

 

“This case is far from over,” said Professor Angela J. Campbell, Director of the Communications and Technology Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation. “Most stay motions are denied. The Court’s unwillingness to grant our motion doesn’t change the fact that we have strong legal arguments against Chairman Pai’s unseemly rush to allow the nation’s largest broadcasters to become even larger.”

 

The stay motion and the reply to the oppositions to the stay motion can be viewed here and here.

 

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Categories: media concentration

Media ownership diversity ignored again

Today’s Federal Communications Commission order on media ownership is the regulatory equivalent or waving a white flag of surrender. The critical issues of race, power, white privilege and justice are at the center for our national conversation; the media’s coverage of the presidential election may well be determinative of the outcome; and the FCC is peering timidly out from the shadows, showing none of the bold leadership that it brought to bear elsewhere in the last two years.

The FCC made absolutely no progress on media diversity. It has ignored, for a third time, the mandate of the U.S. courts and the directives of the Communications Act. While the FCC did maintain the existing rules, meaning it has not given a green light to more media consolidation, Congress’ action to permit companies to circumvent those rules means we are likely to see—in practice—more joint operations than ever. 

The FCC failed to engage with industry, the civil rights community, or public interest advocates to find any meaningful action to fulfill its statutory obligation to promote media diversity. It is no surprise that we are seeing the same re-hash of the same issues as we have for the last twenty years.

In 1968, the Kerner Commission concluded, “the press has too long basked in a white world, looking out of it, if at all, with white men's eyes and a white perspective. That is no longer good enough. The painful process of readjustment that is required of the American news media must begin now. They must make a reality of integration--in both their product and personnel. They must insist on the highest standards of accuracy--not only reporting single events with care and skepticism, but placing each event into meaningful perspective. They must report the travail of our cities with compassion and depth.”

History’s lesson is as relevant today as it was then. Our only hope is that the next FCC Chair will take up these matters with seriousness and dispatch.

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Categories: media concentration

Budget riders threaten media justice wins

Over the last year, we've had a couple of great FCC rulings.  We were pleased to see the FCC, last year, take a step toward rules that will promote more media diversity.  The FCC eliminated loopholes that allow companies to own more stations than permitted by FCC rules.  This resulted right away in more stations being sold off to women and people of color and increasing media ownership diversity for the first time in years

In addition, of course we're all excited about the FCC's strong net neutrality ruling this year, supported by our fantastic Faithful Internet campaign.

But unfortunately each of these rulings are at risk during the budget process, when members of Congress attach "policy riders" to the budget.  Essentially even if Congress can't blog the FCC through legislation, it can put limits on how the FCC spends its money and that means Congress can block the FCC's decisions through sneaky back-door maneuvers. 

In the last month we've been working with our allies in the civil rights and faith communities to urge Congress to let the FCC's decisions stand.  You can see the Leadership Conference substantive letter on media diversity, their letter opposing policy riders, and our faith letter opposing both media diversity and net neutrality policy riders. 

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