Saturday, January 05, 2008

Newspaper Publisher Speaks Out Against FCC's Latest Rules

Frank Blethen, the publisher of the Seattle Times newspaper, testified before Congress criticizing the recent FCC rules that would loosen media ownership restrictions. It's refreshing to hear an owner of media stating that it is against the public interest to loosen the restrictions on media ownership.

I'm envious that Seattle has such a fabulous newspaper that has been owned by the same family for approximately three generations. This family takes their journalistic mission very seriously. Unfortunately, our local "family owned" paper--The Virginian Pilot--appears to be much more interested in money than journalism and the quality of this paper's reporting o local and national issues has been poor or negligent for decades. Occasionally the paper will do a decent report--for example, recent reports on Blackwater have been excellent. Unfortunately, this works as the exception to the rule.

...I am Frank Blethen the publisher of the Seattle Times. My family has lived in Seattle for 111 years. My family epitomizes the local connection Lippman so accurately cites as the foundation of our freedoms. We are accountable only to our local community and to our heritage with its paramount stewardship duty of independent journalism and community service. Tragically, the essential localism and ownership diversity Lippman praises has been abandoned by Congress and by the FCC. Throughout America in print and in broadcast concentrated absentee ownership abounds. With it has come a disinvestment in journalism causing serious erosion in America’s public policy, literacy, and civic engagement. The public knows something is wrong. When given the opportunity they vehemently oppose media control. They plead for more localism and multiple voices which are the very oxygen of their community and a healthy democracy.

As we witness the inevitable failure of the publicly traded and absentee ownership model which has come to dominate newspapers and broadcast. America’s at a crossroads. This committee has the opportunity to lead Congress down an enlightened path. You have it in your power to be the public servants Jefferson and Hamilton envisioned when they championed the free press as the essential fourth leg on the democratic stool. You are told conglomerate owners need more consolidation because the business model is broken Nothing is further from the truth. After decades of milking newspapers and TV stations for some of the highest pre-tax profit margins imaginable, often as high as 30% for newspapers and 50% for broadcast, it has become impossible for these financially driven owners to sustain these false margins. We are simply going back to the future when I started in the industry 40 years ago. When newspapers were nice locally owned single digit margin businesses generating good cash flow to operate the business and invest in journalism and community. And there is no reason to believe that local newspapers and local broadcasters can’t continue to sustain successful businesses and fulfill their public mandate going forward. Even today, amidst the false claims you hear that the economic model is broken the publicly traded newspaper sector is reporting 16-18% profit margins. You have the opportunity to save our free and local press to rejuvenate America’s civic engagement and to lay the foundation to preserve our democracy longer than any the world has seen. To do so you must keep all current FCC ownership restrictions and public service mandates in place including the all important local cross ownership ban. You must insist that the egregiously unenforced mandates of minority ownership, female ownership and public service airtime be vigorously enforced. You must craft new FCC mandates to insure Internet freedom. You need to institute a ban on cross ownership of print and national broadcast outlets as a companion to the local cross ownership ban. You must boldly put forth limits on newspaper ownership and create incentives and rewards for owners who invest in journalism. I implore you to look to the future and create public policy which allows our nation’s free and local press to again thrive and thus insure our democracy. This is an historic moment. The American people need your leadership. (Webcast of the 12/18/07 Senate Commerce Committee Oversight Hearing can be found here.)

The Media Conglomerates are continuing to exert heavy influence on the FCC and members of the Senate and the House. A Bi-partisan group of Senators--Senators Dorgan, Lott, Kerry, Obama, Feinstein, Cantwell, Snowe are among the co-sponsors--are considering legislation, The Media Ownership Act to require that the FCC hold public hearings for 90 days before ruling on this issue. (The FCC ruled on this issue prior to Christmas and did not hold public hearings for the standard 90 day period prior to this ruling.)

Never fear, the transnational corporation have plenty of lobbyists and money to donate to candidates for re-election. Their voices will be heard as they insist that it is in the public's interest to allow them to own up to 2 TV stations, 8 radio stations AND the local newspaper in a single city or town is dangerous to our democracy. One corporation could control all the news in a city and market their coverage under 11 different names, disguising the fact that all the news is coming from a single source.

Our Senators need to hear our voices on this issue. Our public airwaves are being used by the corporatons to make huge profits yet they are no longer serving the public interest in exchange for the free use of our airwaves. The major news media are talking to our Senators. We need to tell our Senators that we want them to protect the public's interest and command the FCC to stop acting like corporate lobbyists. The FCC is supposed to be protecting the public interest not selling it out. Loosening the media ownership rules is NOT in the public interest. For more information go to

Contact Senator John Warner
Contact Senator Jim Webb

No comments: