This week the House of Representatives convened the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology to discuss further dissolving the ownership rules governing media in the United States regulated by the FCC. At question were rules that limit local television news organizations from owning local newspapers, and limitations on radio companies from owning more stations. Though the relaxing of the ownerships rules have been at the root of robust media consolidation, representatives from the media industry say it is still not enough to compete in a world with internet publishers and alternatives to radio such as satellite radio and Spotify.
The subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R) asserted that the FCC’s ownership regulations were outmoded, and didn’t take into consideration the new realities of the Internet. “The media-ownership rules persist as if the Internet simply did not exist,” Walden said. “I don’t think you guys get it.”
Meanwhile Rep. Anna Eshoo (D) said, “We need to examine this in terms of what consolidation is actually going to do for the American people,” stating that further deregulation of the media was more about making outmoded business models work instead of making sure the media and the FCC are fulfilling the public’s interest.
The FCC’s Chief of the Media Bureau William Lake represented the FCC at the hearing, and stated that the commission had not seen any evidence that the 1996 Telecommunications Act rules governing radio ownership needed to be revised. The FCC was also criticized during the hearing for not delivering a 2010 review of the ownership rules that had been requested by Congress to be accomplished every four years. Furthermore, the next ownership review supposed to be delivered in 2014 will not be finished in time, and instead is expected to be rolled into a report scheduled to be finalized and delivered in 2016. The lack of the FCC’s report leaves Congress lacking information on the real impact of media consolidation and what they might be able to do to resolve the concerns of both regulators and the media industry.
Also during the hearing Paul Boyle, the Vice President of the Newspaper Association of America, admitted that relaxing the ownership rules would result in a “massive wave of mergers”, but said that it may be necessary to keep the industry afloat, while The President of the Newspaper Guild Communications Workers of America Bernard Lunzer said, “Further concentration will mean less credible news … We need real innovation and investment … consolidation of existing organizations will not get us there.”
A look at the excerpts below first published by The Frugal Dad of The Forefathers Project in an info graphic entitled “The Illusion of Choice” illustrate just how much American media has consolidated in the last 30 years, especially after consolidation was sent into hyper drive with the passing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Though a lot of concern was shown by both sides in this week’s Congressional hearing, the conclusions seem to hint that until the FCC delivers their delinquent report on media ownership and concensus can be found on certain issues, not much may be done to either offer relief to the struggling media industry, or stave off the massive media consolidation that looks to concentrate what people see and hear in the hands of a very select few.