August 22, 2003

FCC Votes to Deregulate Media Laws

The corporate media supposedly had their day on June 2, 2003. By a 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission voted to rescind most of the ownership rules on media ownership, which would mean that one or two individuals could come to own most of the media properties in an entire city. After all, FCC chair Michael Powell claimed, consumers can get a diversity of views through the Internet--even though no Internet news source has been sustainably profitable and broadcast licenses are more lucrative than ever. And Powell also said that the courts would force the FCC to change its rules anyway--even though the courts are stacked with the same ideologues which greenlighted the deregulation.

But the corporate media victory has been pyrrhic. The June 2 decision met with coordinated activist-led protests in cities around the country--a first. Chicago had its own protest on June 10 when Michael Powell came to a cable-TV-industry conference at McCormick Place; protesters even got to meet with FCC (and pro-deregulation) commissioner Kevin Martin. And before the vote, an unprecedented 750,000 citizens filed public objections with the FCC urging for a vote delay or for maintaining the rules. The most vicious comments of all may well have been filed by Michael Copps and Johnathan Adelstein, the two FCC commissioners who cast the two votes against deregulation.

The Senate Commerce Committee--which holds oversight over the FCC-heard these concerns and on June 4 called all five commissioners before the Senate. On June 19, after increasing popular pressure, the Senate Commerce Committee voted (in a bipartisan decision) to override the FCC's deregulation vote. This would send the matter into a possible vote in both houses of Congress. And other legislative tools to rescind the vote are being polished off and readied for possible use, including cutting deregulation funds and employing a seldom- used non-appealable override vote in the Senate.

It's anyone's guess how far any or all of these legislative efforts will go. Some serious roadblocks stand in the way, including a strongly pro-deregulatory House Committee, and that guy in the White House. It may well be the case that the FCC's vote may be allowed to stand, but even so the corporate media now has to face a new and formidable foe in the game of media politics--the public. The last year alone has seen groups from Code Pink Women for Peace to the National Rifle Association address concerns for media reform. This is coupled with the emergence of new groups solely devoted to media matters, from Free Press ( on the national level to local groups like Chicago Media Action (

We will likely see the continuation of two trends. On the one hand, the Rupert Murdochs of the world stand to own more and more media outlets and, in efforts to reduce production costs and increase profits, thereby reduce the substantive content of our media. On the other hand, as that content is bled, there will be a crying and growing need for media with real content, which accords us as concerned citizens with a duty and an opportunity to be there to fill that crying need. Carpe diem.