Saturday, January 05, 2008

Universal Support by Public Against FCC Ruling

The Parent's Television Council President testified that there is "Universal Support" by the public against the FCC loosening restrictions on media ownership. Here is Tim Winter's testimony. It's worth reading. Tim Winter, President of The Parents Television Council:

It is a personal honor for me to be here once again before this committee on whose staff I had the pleasure to serve….My name is Tim Winter, and I’m president of The Parents Television Council, with more than 1.2 million members across the United States. The PTC is a non-partisan, non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to protecting children and families from graphic sex, violence, and profanity in entertainment. At first blush, there would seem to be very little connection between the PTC’s mission and the media ownership issues which bring us here together today. But there is compelling evidence that the consolidation of media outlets has led to a coarsening of television content, a destruction of the concept of community standards of decency, an unresponsive, irresponsible news media that routinely ignores news stories to protect its parent corporation, and a cable television industry that effectively functions as a cartel.

Mr. Chairman, a few years ago the PTC stood shoulder to shoulder with a remarkably diverse group of public policy advocates to decry the loosening of media ownership rules. The National Organization for Women and Concerned Women for America, the Salvation Army and Common Cause, Consumers Union, the National Rifle Association, MoveOn.Org and others. As PTC founder, Brent Bozell, noted at that time, “When all of us are united on an issue then one of two things have happened. Either the earth has spun off its axis and we’ve all lost our minds or there is universal support for a concept.” I believe the FCC’s recent localism hearings across the country have once again demonstrated universal support for a concept. Big media companies have not conducted themselves in a manner which merits them owning even more media outlets. The strongest voices in favor of allowing big media companies to grow even bigger have come from those within those very companies.

Let me explain why the ownership issue is so important to the Parents Television Council. With very few exceptions, network owned television stations do not consider standards of community decency even though the terms of their broadcasting licenses demand it. During the summer of 2003, the FOX broadcasting network aired an episode of a prime show called Keen Eddy. Criminals trying to sell horse semen on the black market hired a prostitute to perform a particular act on the horse in order to extract the semen. Although the act itself was not displayed on the program, the dialogue was so course that I’m uncomfortable mentioning it here to you today. A member of the PTC in Kansas City wrote a letter to the FOX owned and operated television station in his market expressing his concern. And I wish to read aloud the response he received from the station’s general manager. “We forwarded your letter to the FOX network. The network, not the station, decides what ‘goes on the air for the FOX owned and operated stations.’” When station general managers in cities and towns across the country take their orders directly from headquarters in New York or Hollywood it comes as no surprise that they would toe the company line when it comes to program decisions. How does this serve the public interest?

We have heard repeatedly and privately from independent local broadcasters from around the country who are threatened by the major networks that they will lose their affiliates status if they preempt network programming. Fortunately, there are a few notable exceptions of broadcasters pushing back on the networks, including Mr. Goodman here, and others like Abbot Communications. But when local programming decisions are dictated or prohibited by corporations thousands of miles away, the public interest cannot be served.

Media consolidation has led to a self serving news media that seeks to protect interests of their own corporate parent. When a broadcast network recently challenged the FCC’s ability to enforce indecency standards, they convinced two federal judges in New York City that they have the right to air the “F” word anytime of day even when they know millions of children are watching. Although dozens of concerned family groups, including the PTC, were shocked that a federal court could reach such a preposterous conclusion, there has been only limited public outcry over that decision. The reason for this is simple. In large measure the American people don’t know that it has happened. In the wake of that court decision, not a single national news broadcast organization saw fit to cover the story. And even with a host of 24 hour a day news channels on cable there was near zero coverage of a decision that will impact every family in this country as well as the policies determining appropriate use of the airwaves that they themselves own. Why no coverage? We believe that the corporate news divisions knew the public would be incensed by the arrogance of a media conglomerate arguing for the right to air profanity in front of their children early in the day over the airwaves that they own. It should be noted that the Second Circuit “F” word lawsuit, and the now pending Third Circuit lawsuit which alleges that the Janet Jackson Super Bowl strip tease was not indecent, were not brought by local broadcasters like Mr. Goodman here. Rather these lawsuits were filed by the major television networks. Those same corporations who now want an even greater control of America’s media.

If you think media consolidation has stifled the broadcast industry please listen carefully to the following statistics on cable. At my office in Los Angeles, there are 48 cable networks bundled together on the expanded basic cable tier. Of those 48 cable networks, Viacom owns all or part of 8 of them. NBC owns all or part of 8 of them. Disney owns all or part of 8 of them. News Corp owns all or part of 6. Liberty Media owns all or part of 6. And the local cable operator--Time Warner--owns all or part of seven of them. By using the retransmission consent rules these conglomerates are able to use their TV stations broadcast licenses in an extortion like way to force unwanted cable networks onto our cable systems and onto our cable bills. There has been much attention paid recently to the acquisition of The Wall Street Journal by News Corporation. Imagine the outrage if Mr. Murdoch demanded the subscribers of The Journal now take and pay for the The New York Post. But that is precisely what he’s doing with his new FOX business network. News Corporation is able to force his new Fox business network. News corporation is able to force its new business network onto systems across the country, regardless of whether a single consumer wanted another business cable network. Such bundling cable arrangements maybe great for Wall Street, but not for main street. And it does not serve the public interest.

There has been a great deal of discussion about the lack of diversity in the American media landscape as it relates to the ownership of media properties and rightfully so. Most Americans can name one network that caters to African Americans, BET. But can you name a second, or a third? You can’t because they simply don’t exist as an option on most basic cable systems. The Black Family Channel, the only black owned and operated television network for African American families is now only distributed via Internet. Because it is independently owned and cannot apply the same bundling leverage the conglomerates can, the Black Family Channel is effectively shut out from carriage. In an environment dominated by media giants, there has developed no market that would allow additional minority programming to be created and distributed.

Mr. Chairman, how can media conglomerates be afforded the additional public trust to hold even more broadcast licenses when they behave in this manner? This Committee, the Congress, and the FCC must work in concert to protect the interests of the public, the very owners of the airwaves. In the strongest terms, I urge the Congress to consider these issues carefully as it evaluates any appropriate action the issues of localism, diversity, and media ownership. Thank you.

Lobbyists hired by Big Media will be talking with your Senators today. Will you?

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