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Obama Calls for Tighter FCC Regulation of Broadcasting

In a statement delivered by a staffer, Democratic presidential candidate and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama laid into the Federal Communications Commission for its dereguatory policies under Chairman Michael Powell, saying that it promoted "the concept of consolidation over diversity," and he heartily endorsed tightening FCC regulations on broadcasters.

"I believe the FCC media-ownership rules remain necessary and are critical to the public interest," he said. "We should be doing more to encourage diversity in ownership in broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets and the expression of diverse viewpoints," as well as provide "greater clarity" of broadcasters' public-interest obligations.

But Obama had done his homework, drilling down to specific issues.

Pointing out that the FCC attempted to relax the rules in 2003, Obama said, "Fortunately the commission's attempt to relax the regulations was rejected."

Obama said he "fully endorsed" new rules "promoting greater coverage of local issues and greater responsiveness of broadcasters to the communites they operate in. I also believe that broadcasters' license-renewal requests ... should require greater FCC scrutiny and public input should occur more frequently."

He added that he "strongly requested" that the FCC "put out any specific changes they intend to vote on in a new notice of proposed rulemaking." Toughening license renewals and putting out ownership rule changes for comment have been key issues for Democratic FCC commissioner Michael Copps.

The FCC is re-examining its media-ownership rules at the behest of a federal court and Congress. It has proposed loosening rules that limit multiple-station ownership to larger markets and dropping the ban on ownership of newspapers and stations in the same market -- the FCC grandfathered a number of pre-existing combos when it adopted the ban, and it has granted waivers in other cases.

The hearing was held at the headquarters of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Operation PUSH, significant because Jackson has called media consolidation a civil-rights issue since he says those who control the media can control the social agenda depending on what they chose to cover and ignore.

In a statement read at the beginning of the hearing, Jackson said consolidation was a "life or death issue for communities of color." He added that "too few own too much at the expense of too many." 

Jackson also called for a return of the FCC's tax-certificate program, which provides tax breaks to companies that sell to minorities. Martin said he agreed with reinstuting the policy

Asking the FCC to reject media consolidation, Jackson said: "These are our airwaves. We gave them to big media, and we can take them back."