Free Press Threatens Suit If FCC Proceeds With Ownership Vote
Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, said Wednesday that
his group will sue the FCC once again if the commissioners vote to approve a
draft media ownership rule order without completing court-ordered diversity
"If they don't follow the court instructions and do the
studies they were supposed to do before moving forward, and if they move
forward without public input, then I believe we will have no choice but to take
them to court again -- Free Press was among those suing the Kevin Martin-led FCC
when it attempted similar changes in 2007.
That came in a press conference held by a number of groups
opposed to a draft order circulated by FCC chairman Julius Genachowski that
would loosen the newspaper/TV cross-ownership rules, lift limits on newspaper/radio
cross-ownership and allow radio/TV cross-ownership, while counting some joint
sales agreements toward local ownership caps that are being left in place.
Those groups did not go as far as to commit to a suit as
well, but said they had "grave" concerns.
On the conference call with reporters, Wade Henderson,
president and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, led
some harsh criticisms of the commission, suggesting that it was allowing
conglomerates to gobble up outlets and homogenize programming. He argued the
FCC proposal would continue to keep licenses out of the hands of diverse
Also on the call were Jesse Jackson, founder and president,
Rainbow PUSH Coalition; Bernie Lunzer, president, of the Newspaper Guild-CWA;
Mee Moua, president, Asian American Justice Center; Alex Nogales, president and
CEO, National Hispanic Media Coalition; Rashad Robinson, executive director,
They urged the FCC to table the vote until it has thoroughly
studied the impact of its rules on diversity. "Too few controlling too
much media undermines democracy," said Jackson. "Count Rainbow/PUSH
in on this."
Lunzer said that people in the heartland care about the
diversity issue. What we need more than anything, he said, is time to have a
discussion, including public hearings.
The FCC is expected to vote ownership changes as part of its
quadrennial review of its ownership rules mandated by Congress, and currently
two years behind schedule, and address in another proceeding associated
But Aaron says that would not cut it. "They cannot be
separated. They need to consider everything together. Diversity is not
something that we can deal with later, after changing the rules after allowing
more concentration. Diversity needs to come first." He says the court has
been clear that these are not separate things, but are intertwined. Some FCC
staffers have pondered whether the FCC will be able to convince the court it
could loosen cross-ownership without having completed its diversity studies.
"We have been waiting and waiting for these studies on
the impact of diversity, and the idea that we would push those off is
absolutely not the way to go."
Henderson agreed. "There is a bit of an Alice in
Wonderland quality of the FCC's decision-making. Sentence first, verdict
after." He said the underlying problem is the need to diversify ownership
to ensure there is diversity in hiring and management and policy. He said that
is something that has to be taken seriously, "and it starts with the
Aaron pointed out that back when the Martin FCC voted the
rules, senators who voted to undo them included Barack Obama, Joe Biden,
Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. "The Federal courts have rejected the
FCC's attempts to gut ownership rules," he said, "first in 2004, then
again last summer, for failing to share their plans with the public and for
failing to judge the impact on ownership diversity."
The groups suggested the FCC was failing on both counts once
"The Commission's draft media ownership order includes
a comprehensive analysis of viewpoint diversity based on an extensive record
developed over the last three years," said an FCC official who asked not
to be identified. "Including six public hearings held across the country;
two rounds of public comment; and eleven economic studies that were
competitively bid, subject to peer review, and publicly released. In
addition, all of the 323 [ownership survey] report data has been fully
considered by Commission staff, and much of the data was publicly available a
year ago, with all of it publicly available for weeks now, enabling stakeholders
to review and comment on it."
Broadcasting & Cable Newsletter
The smarter way to stay on top of broadcasting and cable industry. Sign up below
Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.