May 23, 2003

FCC Meeting in Atlanta

It doesn't take much to get me shouting. I fully intend to donate my body to science, directing them to take a special look at the cortal connections between my heart and my brain -- or lack thereof. Contrawise, they'll find a broadband connection of nerves contained between my heart and my lungs. I suspect that any medical doctor doing a study will end up naming this disease after himself -- mostly because it will be hard to identify me after I unjudiciously continue talking despite the presence of someone named "Meat Grinder" who doesn't agree with me.

But it amazes me and confounds me why this syndrome seems nearly ubiquitous in the liberal/progressive/whatever community. Even when the facts stare you in the face, stand out as a primary argument, and can be used to cudgel your opponents into stunned acceptance of reality, liberals continue to wield nothing but a broken shield of good intentions and emotional arguments as if it were the finest steel.

Wednesday I went to the FCC Public Hearing in Atlanta. It's really taken me a day to bring together my thoughts about it; mostly because I want to avoid discouraging people from taking my thoughts as a dissent from the liberal point of view. I, too, believe that relaxing the FCC's rules on media ownership will bring about a disasterous result, and in fact will create the opposite of what Michael Powell has promised, an expansion of views. I'm appalled that Powell, by all accounts educated beyond the fifth grade, cannot see that by reducing the number of voices, you reduce the number of opinions and bodies, and therefore cannot logically expand and extend either the voices of opinion or media coverage. And I cannot see in any way where the free market system should be considered so sacrosanct, so holy, that you need to apply it to everything. It's like lime green, wonderful when used in well considered places; horrid when used on entire houses and full page ads.

But dammit, you have *got* to learn how to speak, people!

In my three hours there, I heard 4 "major" speakers, a couple of people who were asked by the podium to speak, and at least 20-25 people from the audience (out of at least 50-60 in line to speak). Not one brought up relevant facts. I don't mean crowd-appealing, wonderfully told anecdotes -- many people told those. I don't mean crowd-rousing jabs at conservative companies and groups. Facts. About the FCC's proposal. About how media works. About anything relevant to the hearing.

The speakers were excellent; I especially enjoyed the speech from the director of the Atlanta Office of Community Technology, who was quite eloquent. And I also enjoyed John Sugg, a senior editor for Atlanta's weekly alternative paper, who talked about several very interesting points about media in general, as well as a lot of interesting stories about newspapers. Many people commented on how the meeting was completely ignored by every media venue in town, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, all the local news channels, even CNN.

But no one did more than brush over the facts as if they were beside the point. In this case, the facts are so thick, you need to brush them away from your face like flies.

Fact: the FCC cannot site one instance where consolidation of media ownership in an area has brought about a wider range of voices or improved media coverage.

Fact: out of 400 staff editorial cartoonist positions in the country in the last 20 years, 80 are left. That's 80 percent of all editorial cartoonist jobs. Newspapers are cutting jobs left and right; whether it's because they can't make money or because newspapers won't sell actually doesn't matter. Less people means less coverage of news, and less voices of opinion, period.

Fact: not one newspaper that's gone into a joint-operating agreement has ever come out of it. Most end up combining and making only one daily newspaper in town.

Fact: no new daily newspaper for a major city has been started and remained going since the 1970s -- and the only one to start (that I know of) was the St. Louis Sun, which closed about a year and a half later.

Fact: Clear Channel has proven the exact opposite of what Mr. Powell has claimed will be the result; and there's a raft of lawsuits to prove that Clear Channel, given a chance to purchase more radio stations since 1996, has abused the law and created multiple problems in the radio community.

Fact: TV channels were once obliged to give equal time to both sides of a given view. That law the FCC removed several years ago; and since then few channels have given time to liberal points of view, if any, on a regular basis. Networks, given a voluntary option, chose to be imbalanced instead of balanced.

These are facts; not something you can say is a matter of opinion. Not once did I hear facts stated as facts. Not from the major speakers, not from the crowd, no one. Few people even stuck to the topic; one person rambled so far, that the crowd was stunned into silence while he brought up nearly everything from John Ashcroft to the war in Iraq. Many brought up anti-Moslem and anti-Arab portrails in the media.

Rallying a crowd is great. It's pointless to rally, though, when your crowd isn't the one making the decision, and it's pointless to have a public hearing, when what's heard is nothing but opinions and emotional pleas. A public hearing is to hear relevant facts, relevant (and provable!) stories, and relevant issues with the proposal at hand.

God help us, I hope the FCC overlooks our failures, because we need this win.

Posted by Ted Stevko at May 23, 2003 01:08 AM