Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "broadcaster accountability"

Kids Without Internet Get No Help from FCC

Working on social justice always involves steps forward and steps back. Even as last week we celebrated a step forward in communications policy, today we are pushed forcefully back. Today's 2 and a half page ruling by the Federal Communications Commission to reject two 10-year old petitions consisting of hundreds of pages by the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry and its partners are as deaf to the public interest and the Commission's role as any rulings under any administration. 

 

At the same time that Chairman Wheeler stood up to special interests in the Net Neutrality vote last week, the FCC's media bureau--which ultimately reports to the Chairman's office--was busy taking dictation from the broadcast lobby.  The losers are children who rely on broadcast TV—which is a lot of low income families and households of color.

 

These complaints were part of a series of complaints filed in 2004 and 2005. These complaints were designed to give the FCC a chance to issue rulings that would clarify that some of the most egregious violations of the Children's Television Act were out of bounds. We challenged soap operas posing as educational television for Spanish-speaking children. We challenged programming filled with advertisements for Medigap insurance and incontinence products as clearly not directed to children. We challenged programming described by our expert analysts as "among the most violent children’s shows … seen in … 20 years of studying children’s television" as insufficient to meet the children's educational obligations of broadcasters. 

 

While those petitions took immense resources and involvement from churches and communities all around the country, these examples were selected because they were egregious and obvious violations of law. In 2007 the Bush FCC fined Univision $24 million dollars--at the time the largest FCC fine ever levied--based on one of the petition about the now-infamous Complices al Rescate soap opera. Eight years ago, the pending NBC acquisition forced the FCC to take the petition seriously. Today, we have no merger to focus attention on broadcasters, and this order is released on Wheeler's watch when attention is focused elsewhere.

 

In the distant future, the business of television might well exclude any reliance on FCC licenses. But that time is not now. As we explained recently in a letter to the FCC asking them to take up this issue, the nearly 100 million US households that don’t subscribe to broadband are more likely to depend on broadcast TV for educational shows and, according to the National Association of Broadcasters, minorities currently make up 41% of broadcast-only homes. For the children in these households, educational programming at home comes from broadcast TV. 

 

And today the FCC's action told these children that no one is willing to look out for them.

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UCC Media Justice arm files petition with FCC to stop media consolidation

By W. Evan Golder

 

No matter where you live in the United States, a UCC OC Inc. petition filed at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday, July 24, will affect you.   The petition seeks to deny the right of Gannett Company, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, to expand its hold in five media markets by buying a TV company called Belo Corp.  If the merger is approved by the FCC, it will affect media markets, large and small, across the country.  The petition focused on five of the hardest hit markets.  Members of the UCC filed to demonstrate to the FCC how they would be harmed by the merger.

 

In Phoenix, the Rev. David W. Ragan watches Phoenix’s three television stations – KTVK, KPNX, and KASW – and subscribes to Phoenix’s only major daily newspaper, the Arizona Republic.  But he finds it “almost impossible” to get media coverage for events sponsored by groups fighting for equality in Arizona “when our cause is against the positions taken by the dominant perspectives of the press and the community it shapes.”

 

In Tucson, the Rev. Teresa Blythe regularly watches KTTU and KMSB and reads the Arizona Daily Star, the only daily newspaper providing news of her entire community. Gannett, which currently owns 23 television stations and 82 U.S. daily newspapers, including half-ownership of the Star, proposes to provide major services to KTTU and KMSB. “Without independent voices,” Blythe says, “there will be less investigative journalism, which allows corporate interests via press releases and highly ‘spinned’ news to dominate the news.”

 

In St. Louis, the Rev. David Beebe serves Good Shepherd United Church of Christ. Among the television stations he watches are KMOV and KSDK, both of which Gannett proposes to own. This potential common ownership “harms me,” he says, “by sharply reducing the number of independent voices and competitive news sources available to me.”

 

In five media markets, these three and Louisville, Ky., and Portland, Ore., Gannett proposes to purchase broadcast licenses, thus reducing the number of media outlets in these markets—and the number of sources of news and information.

 

But this media consolidation cannot occur in a vacuum. These deals must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission—and the public has a right to oppose them.

 

So the UCC’s media justice arm, OC Inc., short for UCC Office of Communication, Inc., joined with five other public interest organizations to file objections to this media concentration. The other groups are Free Press, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians and the Broadcasting and Cable Television Workers Sector of the Communication Workers of America (NABET), the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), and Common Cause.

The filing today and the every member of the public’s right to hold media accountable at the FCC are due to the legal rulings established by OC, Inc. More than 50 years ago, OC, Inc.’s founder, Everett Parker, mounted a concerted campaign to deny the license of WLBT-TV in Jackson, Miss and successfully divested the station from its owners.

 

One of the UCC members who helped with Wednesday's filing was inspired by the original work to take part.  St. Louis pastor David Beebe was new to ministry when Everett Parker created OC, Inc. “Up to then, I had thought of a denomination’s Office of Communication as the publicity arm of the church,” he says. “I hadn’t thought of it doing social justice. But I learned what he was doing in Jackson, Miss., and I was very proud. Now I’m grateful that OC, Inc., is still functioning and doing the work that Everett Parker started.”

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FCC's must act to address data gap in underserved communities' needs, cannot rely on flawed study

In two filings today and yesterday, United Church of Christ, OC Inc. was pleased to address several important components of the Federal Communications Commission's proceedings considering media concentration limits.   Today, UCC OC Inc. joined The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights comments submitted in response to the Federal Communications Commission's release of the Critical Information Needs Research Design.  The comment praised the FCC for releasing the design and highlighted it as an important step to counter the substantial dearth of studies addressing the needs of underserved communities.  It noted that the FCC cannot proceed with its proposals  to change existing media ownership rules in the pending quadrennial review, explaining the current record is "flawed" because of "its lack of adequate data analyzing media concentration’s impact on people of color and women."  The letter described a number of refinements which would improve the research protocol.

 

Yesterday, UCC OC Inc. filed a detailed pleading analyzing  recent study by the Minority and Media Telecommunications Council, also in response to FCC request for comments.  The filing, written by Georgetown Law Center's Institute of Public Representation, concluded that the FCC "may not and should not" rely on the MMTC study in the ongoing media ownership and diversity proceedings.  Yesterday's filing described the study's flaws.  It explained that the study utilized only 14 interviews and lacked any transparency or description of the markets that were studied.  Further, while the study claimed that its results provided  no reasons to alter the FCC proposal to permit more consolidation, in fact 3 of the 14 interviewees did identify problems with the type of media consolidation in question -- joint ownership of TV stations and newspapers.  Finally, the study conflated a lack of evidence with proof that no harm exists--something that responsible research cannot do.

 

These filings are part of UCC OC Inc.'s on-going efforts to promote a diverse and accountable media.

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Media Justice Victory - Supreme Court Rules FCC Can Protect Children

In response to the Supreme Court's decision today in Fox v. FCC, Cheryl Leanza, Policy Director of the United Church of Christ, Office of Communication, Inc. stated:

While the Supreme Court today found that the Federal Communications Commission’s procedures were flawed, it did not reverse course on the fundamental constitutional doctrine underpinning the regulations protecting children in the media.  This decision thus permits further action on some of the most important issues relating to children and media today--whether it is the relationship of the media marketplace to childhood obesity, aggressive and inappropriate advertising, or the limited amounts of high-quality educational television for children of all backgrounds. We are gratified that the Supreme Court heeded the call of the Children’s Media Policy Coalition and left this critical doctrine intact.  UCC OC Inc. encourages the Commission to use its authority in a manner that offers clarity to broadcasters and parents alike.

UCC OC Inc. filed an amicus brief in this case as part of the Children’s Media Policy Coalition.

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Slow Start to Broadcaster Disclosure, Important Work Ahead

This morning the FCC started a process to bring broadcaster disclosure to modern technology to an essential public disclosure process.  We had understood that this process would start with a more limited "inquiry" proceeding, but that would rapidly move to fruition by the spring so that we would have the benefit of the new and improved disclosure by this summer, in time for the 2012 elections.

We had expected a start in the inquiry proceeding considering new and improved disclosures today.  We supported this slower process with the condition of its speedy resolution on all fronts.  The Chairman and the Commissioners did not publicly promise a date for the start of this proceeding today. We understand that we should expect to see that item early next week.  Without the prompt start of the process, the prompt resolution of it will be impossible.  Journalists and the public will be waiting impatiently as next summer's debates in national and local elections and we all hope to see increased news coverage of civic affairs. 

We are pleased to hear the Commission emphasize the importance of a searchable database, which is a critical element for the data's usefulness to the public and researchers alike.  It was good to see the unanimous recognition by all four Commissioners that moving broadcaster disclosure online is an obvious and fully justified proposal. 

UCC OC Inc. strongly urges members of the public, journalists and scholars to come forward to explain in the upcoming FCC process the value this heretofore hidden information to their work.  We will be vigilant in pursuing the speedy completion of this proceeding.

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