Sucheta Dalal :Battle for Media Ownership in the U.S.
Sucheta Dalal

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Battle for Media Ownership in the U.S.  

July 9, 2003

Published on Monday, July 7, 2003  at
The Battle Over Media Ownership is Far From Over (
by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney

The American people have already changed the character of the debate over media consolidation and monopoly. Now, they have a chance to win it. Just by going to the website and taking a minute or two of your time, there is a very good chance we will change the course of history.

Let us explain.

Before they headed home for the Fourth of July Congressional break, members of the House and Senate got a strong signal that their constituents want them to roll back the June 2 decision of the Federal Communications Commission to loosen remaining controls on media consolidation and monopoly. During the month of June, more than 300,000 Americans contacted members of Congress to call demand restoration of limits on the ability of individual companies to dominate more than 35 percent of television communications and to prevent "cross-ownership" schemes that allow corporations to buy up primary newspapers, radio and television stations and cable and Internet services in a city. That was in addition to the 750,00 people who wrote to the FCC telling them not to let fewer and fewer companies own more and more of the media. The outcry had an impact. The Senate Commerce Commerce endorsed legislation that not only restores the old rules but tells the FCC to start taking the public interest into account when it makes decisions about media ownership.

When they returned home, members say, they heard more about media than ever before. U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, said concerns about the FCC rule changes and consolidation of radio ownership in the hands of companies like ClearChannel came up frequently at town meetings in his state. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, said her constituents made it clear they wanted her to act to address media consolidation and the declining quality of news coverage in broadcast media.

"Members of Congress are finding they cannot avoid talking about media issues because people really are upset with what the FCC did, and with the broader issue of who controls the media," says U.S. Rep. Bernie Sander, I-Vermont, a leading critic of the FCC rule changes and a champion of media reform in the public interest. "Now, the challenge is to move Congress beyond talk and toward action."

Sanders is right. Now that the issue is on the agenda, the Congress needs a big push. On July 8, when members of Congress return to Washington, Free Press, Consumers Union, Common Cause and all the other activist groups that have been in the thick of the fight not just to reverse the FCC rule changes are urging Americans to flood Congress with telephone calls urging them to stop talking and start legislating. Why telephone calls? Because one phone call from a constituent equals scores of emails in terms of impact.

* Call your senators and your representative. You can get their district and Washington phone numbers with one click at That site will also tell you if they support the relevant legislation or if they do not.

What is the relevant legislation?

In the Senate, it is the "Preservation of Localism, Program Diversity and Competition in Television Broadcast Service Act of 2003 " (Senate Bill 1046). If your senators are already co-sponsors, thank them and ask them to put pressure on the Senate leadership for an immediate vote on the legislation. We have roughly 35 co-sponsors now. We need more than 50 to increase pressure on the Senate leadership to allow a floor vote.

In the House, it is Bernie Sanders' House Resolution 2462, the "Protect Media Diversity Act." It is the House equivalent of Senate Bill 1046. If your representative is already a co-sponsor of 2462, ask them to step up the pressure for action by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Ask them as well to cosponsor House Resolution 2052, a bill sponsored by veteran Democratic Rep. John Dingell and North Carolina Republican Richard Burr that addresses concentration of ownership of television stations at the national level.

Like June, July will be a critical month in the history of the American media reform movement. Get it started right by contacting your representatives in the House and Senate, as well as key Congressional leaders, and saying, "We want diverse and competitive media that serves our communities and that provides us with the information we need to make American democracy work." As the United States marks the 227th anniversary of its birth, it is time to remind Congress of something that James Madison taught us a long time ago: "A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives."

-- Sucheta Dalal