FCC Bipartisanly Bad on Media Ownership

Last week the FCC promulgated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would allow for more media consolidation. Among many changes contemplated, the most significant would actively encourage the merger of print and broadcast media companies. The proposal also leaves the door open to loosening restrictions on the number of radio and television stations a single company can own in any given market.
These propositions sound awfully familiar, as they contain ideas floated by Democratic Chairman Julius Genachowski‘s two Republican predecessors, Kevin Martin and Michael Powell.
Powell attempted to do away with practically all media ownership restrictions on the basis of fundamentalist neoliberal principles alone, while Martin wanted to remove ownership limits on “legacy” media outlets (such as newspapers, radio, and TV stations) in order to “promote competition” between old media and new (i.e., Internet-based) outlets. Both efforts mostly failed.
Genachowski got his job primarily due to his business experience in Silicon Valley. Yet his tenure at the FCC has run hard aground against the sorry state of broadband in the United States, which hinders the Internet’s potential as a system of democratic communication.
At the same time, the agency’s ‘net-centric policy focus has led to an astounding sense of indifference regarding the regulation of legacy media. In this regard, it comes as little surprise that Genachowski’s proposal is reheated Bush-era hash.
Commissioner Michael Copps, who concludes his tenure at the FCC this week for the greener pastures of the lecture circuit, addressed this dilemma most succinctly:
[W]e have seen incredible growth in the broadband realm, ripe with exciting options and opportunities. What we have not witnessed is the breadth and depth online to replace what has been lost in “traditional” media. This becomes critically important when you look at the hundreds of millions of dollars that no longer flow into news operations, only a fraction of which has been replaced by Web newsgathering. [emphasis added]
Interestingly, Chairman Genachowski declined to articulate his own rationale for these rule changes. The FCC’s Republican Commissioner, Robert McDowell, felt the Chairman did not go far enough, openly hoping that all media ownership caps be trashed eventually. And the FCC’s most passive Democrat, Mignon Clyburn, made feeble gestures to notions of diversity in media ownership, yet assented to the Chairman’s proposal in full.
Over the last decade, the general trend of promoting concentration in policies of media ownership has continued unabated, regardless of which political party controls the FCC. Is there any hope for a (non-judicial) reversal in the foreseeable future?

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