Monday, February 3, 2003
WASHINGTON, DC – Some of the nation’s leading consumer and public-interest groups told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that competition and diversity in the American media will be seriously crippled if federal rules governing media ownership are relaxed or eliminated.
Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, Media Access Project, and Center for Digital Deomcracy said the FCC has an obligation to ensure that healthy civic discourse is not threatened by media corporations seeking to roll back ownership limits and expand their empires by buying up newspapers, TV stations, and other information outlets.
The groups filed comments with the FCC today as part of the agency’s biennial review of media ownership rules.
If the FCC weakens the rules, it could have a damaging effect on the independence of news media and the ability of Americans to take part in public debate, the groups said. One company could control the most popular newspaper and multiple TV stations in a single community, giving it extensive control over the news and information that citizens need to be informed and participate in civic events. Such a move would reduce the diversity of cultural and political discussion in a community.
The groups said the very data that media companies have given the FCC in support of relaxing the rules actually demonstrates the need for preserving them. The industry’s own information shows that 70 percent of all markets have four or fewer sources of original TV news production. Newspaper circulation data shows extremely high levels of market concentration, with a single firm usually dominating the ownership of a community’s sources of printed information. Scaling back ownership rules would only lead to greater control by fewer media outlets, the groups argued.
Furthermore, the groups pointed out that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment says the government’s goal should to ensure that there is “the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources.” Yet some media owners are demanding that the FCC effectively abandon this goal by doing nothing more than preventing a media ownership structure that could lead to the complete suppression of ideas.
The groups insisted that the FCC must preserve the rules that were intended to provide multiple media owners and voices in a market. Further consolidation among media giants could reduce the assortment of voices and opinions that are essential to a healthy democracy, they said.
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, is an independent and nonprofit testing,, educational and information organization serving only the consumers. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public and protect consumers.
The Consumer Federation of America is the nation’s largest consumer advocacy group, composed of over two hundred and forty state and local affiliates representing consumer, senior, citizen, low-income, labor, farm, public power an cooperative organizations, with more than fifty million individual members.
Media Access Project is a twenty-six-year old nonprofit, public interest law firm that represents the interests of the public to speak and to receive information via the electronic media of today and tomorrow.
The Center for Digital Democracy is a nonprofit organization working to ensure that the digital media systems serve the public interest.