- FCC Media Ownership Hearing [download a flyer]
Monday, March 31, 2003
Duke University Law School, Durham, NC
Time: 12:30 PM – 5 PM
Location: Room 3043 of Law School (overflow room: 2036, Blue Lounge)
[review the day's schedule]
The Federal Communications Commission will hold a public hearing on media ownership regulations at Duke Law School. This hearing is open to all members of the public and will feature several of the FCC commissioners along with representatives of broadcasting companies from North and South Carolina.
Confirmed VIP attendees include:
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps
FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein
US Congressman Richard Burr (R)
US Congressman David E. Price (D)
The hearing will be organized into three panels – “Localism and Community Standards,” “News,” and “Diversity.” [review panel participants here] After the panels, there will be an opportunity for members of the general public to make comments. To better insure that participant comments become part of the FCC public record Duke Law School will have computers available near the Blue Lounge (2nd floor student lounge) overflow area with access to the FCC’s comment submission page.
If you go: The Washington Duke Inn (2 blocks from Duke Law School) has graciously donated a portion of their lot for FCC hearing participants. Please park on the far left side of the parking lot away from the entrance to the hotel. Directions to the Washington Duke Inn can be found at: http://www.washingtondukeinn.com/contact.html
Live Webcast will be available at: http://www.law.duke.edu/webcast/
FCC Media Ownership Hearing [download a flyer]
Wednesday, April 2, 2003
Northwestern University Law School, Chicago, IL
Time: 9:30 AM – 4 PM
Location: Lincoln Hall, 357 E. Chicago Avenue
[download a schedule]
Industry leaders, activists and academics will address new FCC regulations at a Midwest Public Forum on Media Ownership to be hosted by Northwestern University School of Law on Wednesday, April 2 at 10 a.m. in Lincoln Hall at 357 E. Chicago Avenue. Michael J. Copps, Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), will be in attendance.
The forum, which is the first of its kind in the Midwest, is free and open to the public. Organized by students in the Media and Entertainment Law Society at Northwestern in conjunction with local media groups, the forum was developed in response to FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s challenge, made at the Columbia University Forum, to “give us something we can use..[to] develop [media] ownership policies that truly serve the American Public.” The forum setting will give attendees the opportunity to voice their opinions before the public and the FCC about the impact of proposed changes.
FCC Media Ownership Hearing
Monday, April 7, 2003
Arizona State University
Time: 1 p.m – 4:30 p.m.
Location: KAET Channel 8 television studio
On Monday, April 7, 2003, the Benton Foundation will hold the Arizona Forum on Media Ownership, in partnership with Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Maricopa Community College District’s Center for Civic Participation.
The forum will address the current federal review of the nation’s media ownership rules under consideration by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The event will provide citizens in the region with an opportunity to learn about – and provide input on – the issue. It will be held at the KAET/Channel 8 television studio (www.kaet.asu.edu) on the campus of Arizona State University from 1:00pm to 4:30 p.m.
Charles Benton, Chairman of the Board of the Benton Foundation, noted, “We are seeking to meet the need for greater public education and debate in helping organize this event. This is a ‘people’s forum’ to elevate the voiceless in the current media ownership debate — Hispanics, Native Americans and those who live in rural areas — silenced by the very media legally obliged to serve the diversity of local interests.”
The Durham Independent has a nice overview of the issues:
- The Federal Communications Commission, the government agency that regulates the broadcasting industry, is considering proposals from the major media companies to relax or even scrap current rules that limit the number of radio and television stations a single company can own in a given market. Also on the table, awaiting the hatchet, is a rule that prohibits a company that owns a TV station from also owning a newspaper in the same market. If that were approved, there could be many cities in America served by just one newsroom.
….Back in 1996, Congress and the FCC decided to do away with many of the rules regarding media ownership. What’s the effect?
Arbitron released a survey in February that bolstered further deregulation. It said about 79 percent of listeners were “very pleased” with radio programming and felt they had as many or more choices available as they did five years ago. Arbitron is the media and marketing research firm that provides ratings to the radio industry and effectively compiles song playlists to most commercial radio stations through market test response of target age groups to particular songs.
But the industry’s own hard data reveal something else. According to a study by the Future of Music Coalition, a Washington-based musician advocacy group that has vocally opposed the relaxation of ownership rules, there has been dramatic change for the worse. The study released last November found a loss of localism, less competition, fewer viewpoints and less diversity in programming, with virtually every music format controlled by an “oligopoly” of four or fewer companies across the country. Using data from the BIA Financial Network (an investment banking firm that serves broadcasters), the group analyzed the Triangle radio market and found it even worse than the national average. Here, there are a total of 46 stations and 24 owners, generating approximately $77.8 million in sales revenue each year. Four broadcasters–Curtis Media Group, Clear Channel, Radio One, and Capitol Broadcasting–control 95.5 percent of the listenership (nearly 2 million people) and 96.4 percent of the total sales revenue.
Radio has arguably felt the strongest impact from the 1996 deregulation. Limited bandwidth is the major reason, since the expansion of cable has helped to diversify the programming (if not the sources of the programming) available on TV. There are only so many spots on the radio dial.
That’s exactly why Jim Heavner opposes the proposals to do away with ownership caps. “I believe that the public’s interests are best served if all broadcasting media were owned by the people who lived in the city of license, if these licenses are finite.”
Heavner’s company, VilCom, was once a small media powerhouse in its own right. Over the years, it acquired about 30 radio stations. It has sold off all but one, WCHL 1390 AM, but VilCom still has various other holdings, such as the lucrative University Directories, which publishes phone books at 100 colleges. “I’m a business person and will generally defend the efficacy of the free enterprise system as the best way for us to advance free societies,” Heavner said in an interview at his office. The view looks out onto the VilCom campus, with shiny new office buildings that make up the company’s commercial real estate division. Heavner is a dyed in the wool Tar Heel fan who takes pride in the fact that he wields a great deal of influence in Chapel Hill. Even the curtains in his office are Carolina blue.
An unapologetic businessman, Heavner insists that this is not about the virtue or vice of the corporations that are eager to buy up stations and plug them into a profit-making business. He explained how the business operates, and why community interests sometimes get lost. “The home office flies into town, meets with the manager and says ‘How are we going to make our sales goals? How are we going to improve our profitability so we can be successful?’ There’s nothing wrong with that. But when it comes to broadcasting, the communities are not as well served.”
….Guillory believes lack of local coverage strikes at the heart of the media’s role in a democratic society. “That’s the critical role of journalism, to keep people in touch with local officials and keep public officials accountable to the voters. We can’t let our democracy be guided by just a few news barons.”
The buy-back of WCHL was possible because Curtis Broadcasting was owned by Heavner’s good friend, Don Curtis, a guy he can make deals with over lunch. But in most American cities, there is neither the will nor the cash nor the access to buy back radio stations and turn them into local outlets. The momentum toward consolidation is nearly impossible to stop.
“I’m not sure that the biggest damage has not already been done in a way that it will be hard to undo,” Heavner said.