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Stand Up And Holler For Localism

A woman wearing a pink crown and cheerleaders with "FCC" emblazoned on their chest leading anti-consolidation cheers. That was the wacky, Halloween-inspired "motley crew’ side of an FCC localism hearing Wednesday that also saw a host of serious criticisms of media consolidation.

The cheerleaders drew interested photographers as they launched into a cheer: "2-4-6-8, who do we consolidate? Media! Media! Media! they shouted in unison to mostly smiles and chuckles. The lead cheerleader opined that it would have been better with pompoms, but that they had been confiscated at security.

Most of the serious witnesses, from low power TV and radio representatives, hip hop activists, students and others, weighed in forcefully against greater media consolidation, with the commission staffers doing their best to get the proceedings moving so that commissioners and others could get home before the Trick or Treaters take to the streets.

At the marathon meeting, commissioners approved video franchise breaks for cable with one hand and smacked the industry with the other by invalidating exclusive contracts with apartments and condos, then took almost no break as it began hearing from witnesses and then the public on broadcast localism.

There was talk of fluff replacing journalism, of job cuts, of big media trying to quash smaller media, of homogenized content,  of marginalizin minorities, of women being frozen out of jobs and hurt by misogynistic music. Andthe hits just kept on coming.

Strong opposition–"abolish the corporate puppet FCC" was one suggestion–to media consolidation was the theme of the day, with not a single encouraging word on the media among the first several dozen witnesses, some of whom said they had been waiting outside FCC headquarters since 4 a.m..

One commissioner estimated the crowd outside the FCC at hundreds, Free Press pegged it at more than 150..

I couldn’t figure out what the woman with the pink crown represented, but a woman in all-black talked about the failure of the media to protect free speech and public access to information.

Josh Silver, co-founder of Free Press, took to the public mike saying it was the first time he had testified at the FCC. He said he founded the group in part out of exasperation with TV news. He said he was struck by the bipartisan opposition to consolidation, warning that it would not be popular and saying the backlash was "percolating," telling the commission to pay attention to the 99% of comment against consolidation.

Even beginning the meeting 20 minutes late–though from a 9 instead of 9::30 start time, the commission was able to wrap it up early, beating the planned 2 p.m. end time by 18 minutes, a relief to parents of small children everywhere, though at the risk of seeming to rush the proceedings.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin took some heat from commenters for the short notice–five days–for the hearing, and some opined that they did not prepare a video or other visual aid, as an NAB representative had to tout TV stations’ public service during the California wildfires.