Liveblogging The Media Consolidation Showdown Between The FCC And The House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee

Starting today at 9:30 a.m. the House will drag FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and his colleagues before the Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee to explain their misguided and widely-criticized media consolidation plan that would allow one company to control several radio and television stations in the same city. The hearing comes two days after John Dingell (D-MI,) who will be chairing the hearing, accused Martin of abusing his power and intentionally keeping his fellow Commissioners in the dark. Just yesterday, the Senate Commerce Committee voted to ban the FCC from moving forward with their planned vote until they first complete a comprehensive study of broadcasters’ commitment to local news and ownership opportunities for women and minorities.

All five FCC Commissioners will testify, along with a slew of media representatives including the Newspaper Association of America, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the National Congress of Black Women, the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, and (one of these things is not like the other…) Clear Channel Communications.

Will Kevin Martin throw his spectacles at the Committee in anger? Will former Army man Dingell make Martin cry? Join us at 9:30 a.m. as the sparks start flying.
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

9:25: Audio link only? For a hearing on the media? What a sense of humor you have, Chairman Dingell.
9:33: Video Link! Thanks, C-SPAN.
9:39: Oh good, “this is going to be a long morning.” Let’s hear some opening statements.

9:40: The internet is alive! CBS, Fox, NBC—they are all on the internet. But we still can’t forget about broadcasters.

9:41: Kevin Martin gets a paper placard for his name. Wonder if he’s envious of the Congressmen with their formal name plaques.

9:45: Jane Harman (D-CA) is so clever: “Happy holidays, from one dysfunctional body to another.”

9:46: She cares about the 700 Mhz spectrum auction, Block D in particular. It’s important for emergency responders to be able to talk to each other during fires. Ok.

9:46: Harman thinks the FCC is moving too fast. The FCC needs to encourage policies that help “the L.A. economy.” Yes, that is exactly the FCC’s charge. Way to represent, Congresswoman.

9:48: John Shimkus (R-IL) thinks the media needs to be freed, more consolidation. “For the benefit of the consumer.” And don’t forget ‘people in our society who need information.’

9:50: Rick Boucher (D-VA) has an alternative to the FCC’s plan.

9:50: “There is more choice today than in 1975.” Ah, internet. Oh, whoops, Boucher meant satellites and “independent cable operators.” And, of course, the internet.

9:53: Boucher wants to guarantee at least one independent voice in the television and radio markets.

9:54: Awww, Greg Walden (R-OR) sold his radio stations at 4:52 p.m. yesterday.

9:54: Walden liked the 1996 Telecommunications Act. He went from two stations to five, and allowing them to band together made them “viable economic units.”

9:55: The only viable economic unit we know of in radio is Clear Channel.

9:56: Radio stations are threatened by school districts that text message parents.

9:57: Dingell is here.

9:57: His Committee Counsel supports media consolidation. He does not.

9:58: “The FCC appears to be broken.” The regulatory process is no longer fair, transparent, or open.

9:58: He sounds weak today, like he’s reading to school children. He usually barks his statements with gusto.

9:58: Chairman Martin is responsible for the FCC, but the other Commissioners have failed as well.

9:59: ‘Agency hearings should not be a forum to pursue personal matters.’

10:00: He remembering FCC Chairman Powell’s disastrous attempt at media consolidation with fondness. Not the proposal, but the part where the Third Circuit spanked the FCC.

10:00: That’s it? Go eat a powerbar, Chairman. We want to see the feared and mighty Dingell back for question time.

10:02: Cliff Stearns (R-FL) likes the proposal, and so far he understands, that’s what we’re here to discuss today. Yes, Congressman, it is.

10:03: “Competition, rather than regulation, will best serve the consumers.” He wants to eliminate the cross-ownership regulations altogether because there is just so much competition.

10:05: Hilda Solis (D-CA) is concerned that the country has many women and many minorities, but few women or minority media owners.

10:06: She’s also concerned that altering must-carry rules could adversely impact the programming minorities enjoy.

10:09: Two or three companies control the media in Lois Capps’ (D-CA) district.

10:09: A fire blocked the main road through her district a few years back. There was panic as people couldn’t get through town. Now we have the internet. Good story, Congresswoman.

10:11: Whoa, Mary Bono (R-CA): “The internet is creating hyper-competition.”

10:14: Bart Stupack (D-MI) waved his opening statement so he can gain three extra minutes of questioning.

10:15: Poor Kevin Martin, he looks so sad. He doesn’t like mean Congressmen saying all these horrible things about his plan.

10:17: Ed Markey (D-MA) is framing media ownership rules as bipartisan, even though the FCC is theoretically independent. Strict rules were issued during the Eisenhower and Nixon Administrations.

10:20: Joe Barton (R-TX), Ranking Member of the Committee is here and likes the FCC’s plan. “We need more hobgoblins at the FCC.”

10:21: “Big print is on a starvation diet.” Um, their profit margins are down—to 18% on average.

10:22: He wants the FCC to scrap additional regulations that restrict ownership. He’s baffled that the FCC can deregulate one industry (media consolidation,) while proposing new regulations for another industry (cable operators.) Martin is just sneaky like that.

10:25: All these clever Congressman are ducking into the hearing room right at the last moment to make a statement. Gene Green, Lee Terry…

10:28: Ok, FCC time.

10:28: No, Kevin! Your microphone doesn’t work.

10:28: Haha, nice Congressional slap. Bobby Rush (D-IL) walks in, Markey cuts him off and offers Rush the chance to make his opening statement.

10:29: Rush waives his time to let Martin speak.

10:29: Martin thinks his proposal does boost competition, diversity, and localism—doesn’t quite see what Congress is upset about.

10:30: His study was lengthy and spirited.

10:31: He loves hearing from the public. His six hearings cost almost $200,000. That’s expensive, which means they were good.

10:32: The FCC has received over 600,000 comments so far, which is well short of the 2 million they received last time consolidation was proposed.

10:32: Though not required, he published the text of his proposed rule. How magnanimous.

10:33: “According to every measure, newspapers are struggling.” (With 18% profit margins.)

10:34: As a result, newspapers are firing reporters. They need to merge with the television networks, because we all know how well television reporters cover the news.

10:36: “I see that my time has expired.” Not so fast, Chairman. You can talk as long as you want.

10:37: He wants more women and minorities to own media outlets. He’s going to help them, regardless of what happens with consolidation.

10:38: “It’s not an exaggeration to say that the media consolidation proposal is the most divisive to come before the Commission.”

10:39: That’s all. Now we’ll hear from Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps, who sounds a bit like a duck.

10:40: He’s warning of a consumer backlash “the likes of which we have not seen for a long, long time.”

10:40: He doesn’t think Martin’s proposal is moderate at all.

10:40: Nor will it affect just the top 20 markets—it will affect all markets.

10:41: The four standards proposed by the Chairman are “as tough as a bowel of Jello.”

10:41: He has as much confidence that the FCC would strike down a request as he has confidence that the next FCC meeting will start on time. (Martin likes to run a little late. Like, eight hours late.)

10:42: “To me, this is just nuts.” He doesn’t understand why the FCC’s answer to the skewed portrayal of minorities is to prevent minorities from owning more stations.

10:43: Our civic dialogue can be expanded or dumbed-down by media. The FCC’s rules have already eroded the value of public debate.

10:45: Who the hell is this? Commissioner Deborah Tate? She has blond hair accented with silver glasses that sit above a necklace of pearls under a weird white sheet of a shirt. She looks like a Jetson.

10:46: She sounds like she won a seat on the student council. “I’m so proud to be a member of the FCC.”

10:46: She can’t think of any agency that has been so thorough and open with any proposal.

10:47: She supports the Chairman’s efforts to help women and minorities, and is an avid consumer of news.

10:50: Onto Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.

10:50: Nobody wants a handful of companies dominating our access to information. Everyone agrees. Except the majority of FCC Commissioners and a batch of Congressman.

10:52: Adelstein is pissed about the Seattle hearing, which was called with five days notice, the shortest allowed under law, and set for a Friday evening. Even then, over 1,000 people showed up, and almost everybody opposed consolidation.

10:53: He’s also mad that the Chairman didn’t formally announce his proposal to the other Commissioners, instead publishing his intents in a NYT Op-Ed.

10:54: Switching from video to audio…

10:56: We hope we’re still with Adelstein. Sounds like it. He wants the FCC to honor the resolution passed yesterday by the Senate, requiring a study of localism and minority ownership.

10:57: Onto Commissioner Robert McDowell. He starts off by reminding us that we ratified the Bill of Rights, which starts with what? That’s right, the first amendment.

10:58: But now we have, as they say in text message parlance, “TMI. That’s ‘too much information.'”

11:01: He’s walking us through the history of media consolidation, and praising the opportunities made possible by the internet.

11:02: Question time.

11:02: Martin selected the top 20 markets because they all had at least double-digit owners according to some technical standard.

11:08: Things are getting very technical, very fast. HHI concentration analyses?

11:11: The internet does not replace traditional media outlets.

11:16: We really wish the video link worked right about now.

11:17: There’s an anti-LPFM law. Low power? Lemming powered? Apparently, people would abandon satellite radio if there were only more free stations.

11:18: Someone is mad that about the 70/70 ruling that would allow the FCC to regulate cable operators.

11:19: Somebody has a memo from the FCC’s Chief Economist that predated the FCC’s request for comment that said the FCC should look into relaxing media ownership rules.

11:20: ‘Someone more cynical than I would ask: “did you know what you wanted to do when that memo was released?”‘

11:20: Martin did have an idea because a ban on cross-ownership was no longer appropriate.

11:21: Haha, someone learned well from Chairman Dingell. Time for yes or no answers only.

11:22: Q: “Are you aware that a newspaper owner said that “newspapers will be profitable for a very, very, very long time?”
A: I’m not aware.
Q: Well he said it.

11:23: These questions are all: “Are you aware -insert group here- opposes lifting the cross ownership rule.”

11:24: This has gone on for at least three minutes.

11:25: Well this doesn’t seem believable: “I’m withholding judgement on media ownership.” He’s not aware if he opposes lifting the cross-ownership rule.

11:26: We think that was Mike Doyle (D-PA).

11:26: Ranking Member Barton (R-TX) is consoling Chairman Martin: “You have a few friends on this issue.”

11:26: Martin is smiling. Awww.

11:28: Barton is upset about Martin’s attempt to invoke the 70/70 rule for cable operators.

11:29: Hey C-SPAN, your video link is a brittle line of fail. Please stabilize.

11:29: Barton wants everyone to say if the FCC has the statutory authority to intervene in a dispute over the private carriage of video programming. If yes, what if anything would let them intervene? Ok.

11:30: Martin has the authority. Ordered Comcast and Time Warner to arbitration. Dashed his answer up with “vis-a-vis.”

11:30: Adelstein also the authority, but only where there’s discrimination by a vertically integrated company. He could set up the Adelstein channel, which if he went to arbitration, someone might be ordered to carry, even though it would be very boring.

11:32: Copps agrees with Martin.

11:32: Tate agrees with Adelstein that there needs to be discrimination. McDowell agreess too.

11:34: Memo to Jane Harman: don’t describe your support for Digital T.V. as “rabid.”

11:35: The U.K. knows how to do a transition. They’re spending $400 million, we’ve spent $5 million. They’re having two people call each subscriber and the elderly to teach them how to switch, and they’re moving cities and stations over one at a time, rather than throwing the switch at once.

11:36: Martin is blaming Congress for not adequately funding public education efforts.

11:37: Adelstein wants an interagency federal task force to oversee the transition.

11:38: Interesting. The GAO slammed the transition, but refused to accept the FCC’s response because it was “too long.” Kevin, send an email to our tipline. That’s exactly the sort of ridiculous complaint we love to hear. Or you could just enter your full respone into the record.

11:40: Republican member: this shouldn’t be a partisan process. It’s a regional process.

11:40: Now he’s slamming the House energy process. Way to stay germane, Congressman.

11:42: What a schmuck. Do we have more information or less than before the internet?

11:42: Adlestein: More hoses, same spigot.

11:42: Congressman: Let’s try to the Doyle approach (it’s really the Dingle approach.) Yes or no!

11:42: What great posturing you do, Committee members. Yes, people oppose the proposal. Yes, there is more information. You have proven nothing.

11:44: Schmucky McCongressman is really John Shimkus (R-IL).

11:45: The members are filing out for four roll call votes on the floor. That should take a solid hour.

11:50: Of course, Markey thinks the votes will only take 30 minutes. We’ll see.

12:34: And we’re back, later than they thought, earlier than I thought.

12:35: Rick Boucher also wants to ask about the DTV transition.

12:36: The U.K. really did have fun with their transition. Whitehaven put up a giant countdown clock. “Some people loved it, some people hated it, but everybody saw it, everybody knew what it meant.”

12:38: So much talking, so little question asking.

12:40: Martin again agrees, more money please.

12:41: Cliff Stearns (R-FL) is noting the distinct lack of comity among the Commissioners. He tells them not to worry, Congress doesn’t start meeting on time, either.

12:42: He wants to know more about the public comment period.

12:42: Martin offered an extended 120 day comment period, several field hearings, and conducted a series of studies. He think that is enough.

12:45: Adelstein: despite the proliferation of sources, 80% of people still get their news from newspapers or television. Less than 1% use “alternative” sources, which does not include the internet.

12:46: Copps: That’s where so many of our rules breakdown, inadequate legal justification.

12:48: Private ownership is changing the media landscape. Commissioner Copps couldn’t even figure out who owned which companies when analyzing a recent merger proposal.

12:51: Chip Pickering is worried that media consolidation might come to Mississippi.

12:53: Don’t worry, says Martin. We only let people in who want to create new news, whatever that means.

12:53: Adelstein is scaring Pickering. “It’s open season, even in Jackson.”

12:57: Pickering wants to know if there are any plans to reform the FCC’s procedures.

1:00: Martin—who starts meetings eight hours late—thinks the Commissioners need to meet more. And that there should be more than two Commissioners required to meet.

1:01: Copps agrees that the minority needs more rights.

1:02: Bart Stupack wants to know who picked the authors of the ten FCC studies.

1:02: According to Martin, the FCC’s Chief Economist picks the authors. The minority Commissioners were able to recommend several authors that were accepted.

1:03: Stupack wants to know why the first study excluded Latinos.

1:03: Martin: That doesn’t show how Latinos get their news. Right.

1:03: The second study missed 75% of the female station owners. Missed? Martin didn’t get it either. But he says they still showed female ownership declined.

1:04: Study number six says that the peer review was so limited that the findings should not be used to make public policy.

1:05: Martin says there were three other studies. So Stupack responds: Ok, then let’s go to the peer review of study number seven. This is fun.

1:06: The peer review said: “The study is over-simplistic. Its assumptions and methodology are flawed.”

1:07: Five of the ten studies are flawed. “Minorities and women are not being counted.” ‘How can you go forward without a baseline to make a comparison?’

1:08: Martin is arguing that the study concluded that the FCC needs more data. How does that support anything, especially media consolidation?

1:12: Onto George Radanovich (R-CA), who also wants to know about 70/70.

1:15: Bobby Rush (D-IL) is pissed. “I am a minority, and to hear this Commission come up with empty rhetoric is abysmal, it just shows a total lack of sincerity.’

1:19: “The majority of the citizenry does not have a recognized voice on the airwaves.”

1:20: Paraphrasing Dr. King: Justifying media ownership is media ownership denied.

1:22: Copps agrees: it’s a question of commitment, why would they do media ownership before minority incentives?

1:23: Jay Inslee (D-WA) wants an oversight hearing anytime an independent agency shows contempt for the American public.

1:24: Inslee is upset about the lack of notification for the public hearing held in Seattle.

1:26: “My folks in Seattle feel like they were treated like a bunch of chumps.”

1:26: Inslee wants to know if Martin drafted his NYT Op-Ed before he heard the testimony in Seattle. He wants Martin to submit his answer in writing.

1:27: “The folks in Seattle deserve an apology.”

1:28: All members have been recognized.

1:29: We thought we spied Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in the hearing. She’s a member of the full Committee, not the Subcommittee, but she’ll still get five minutes for questions.

1:29: Blackburn is a staunch conservative, but she’s still disappointed with the FCC’s conduct. “I consider it an element of disrespect for our constituents who have chosen to speak out.” “That is regrettable.”

1:31: She has legislation that will repeal the 70/70 rule. Oh. But we like that rule.

1:32: She thinks back to 1984 when she had a 19″ TV and a wireless phone. Things have changed, thus all rules created back then are anachronistic and must be repealed. We are not logic ninjas, but at least try to throw a tarp over your blatant logical fallacies.

1:33: Adelstein says that he enforces the laws Congress write. But as long as it’s on the books, he’s going to enforce it. Still, he doesn’t want to see the 70/70 rule go away.

1:34: We were worried this panel would leave without a reappearance from Chairman Dingell. He’s back, ready with yes or no questions.

1:34: Q: Would you each agree that each of your offices has received a draft order for media ownership?
A: Yes.
A: Yes.
A: Yes.
A: Yes.
A: Yes.

1:36: Dingell: How could a draft order submitted before the end of the draft comment period possibly address all the comments submitted?

1:36: Martin: We get comments all the time, but we can’t wait for comments each time we propose something. No revolving door process.

1:37: Dingell, asking everyone but Martin: Does the Commission operate in a fair open manner that allows operation in an open manner?
Adelstein: Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
Tate: Yes.
Copps: No.

1:38: Dingell: Do you and your staff have full, unfettered access to the Commissions resources?
Adelstein: Same answer.
Tate: The Chairman always gives us information.
Copps: No, not in all circumstances.

1:39: Dingell: Do you only vote on items after seeing a final order?
Adelstein: Yes.
Tate: We always see things.
Copps: No, we don’t always see things.
McDowell: We always wait to see things before we vote.

1:39: Take our transcript with a grain of salt. We may have our Adelsteins and Copps mixed.

1:40: Dingell is concerned that not every answer was “yes.” The process should consistently be fair and open.

1:41: Until he sees that is happening, he will have concerns. He wants Martin to respond.

1:42: Martin does not feel obligated to publish draft rules. It’s something he does out of consideration. Be thankful.

1:43: Dingell learned when he arrived, you have to be fair, and you have to look fair. The second is admittedly tougher.

1:44: Aww. Dingell: “I like you, and I think you’re trying.” They just shared a moment there.

1:45: And with that, we’re going to conclude our coverage.

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. Doesn’t Clear Channel own practically everything in relation to radio? I also have lost count of how many advertisements I see with “Clear Channel” labeled under them.

  2. 9:55: The only viable economic unit we know of in radio is Clear Channel.

    Answers my question…

  3. Quellman says:

    Cummulus Broadcasting is the only other competitor I know of. And sadly CC is cookie cutter across all markets and is out soley to dominate the world. Hence, I try and support local radio best I can.

  4. HRHKingFriday says:

    Hey, thanks for liveblogging this! In fact, it would be great if someday there was a liveblog of all the C-SPAN goings on. We clearly need to keep a closer eye on our lawmakers.

  5. cef21 says:

    What’s the big deal? I get 50 channels on my cable and, through the Internet, have almost infinite information sources. Why on earth do I care if two, three or even 20 of those sources are owned by the same people?

  6. ancientsociety says:

    @cef21: Because if those said companies want to change what information does or does not get relayed, then there is very little chance to have a dissenting voice or contrary opinion in this country.

  7. zentec says:

    At 10:34, someone is saying that news paper revenues are down, circulation is shrinking and significant cuts to staff.

    Here comes the rules and legislation changes to protect the profits of the buggy-whip manufacturers under the guise of “free speech and diversity”. I’m always cynical when business needs protection when wrapped in that blanket.

  8. @ancientsociety: Bingo

  9. HRHKingFriday says:

    @cef21: And not everyone is from a decent sized town with high speed internet. Think about all the small rural towns that depend on 2-3 sources for their news, and only a handful of people have internet.

  10. Trai_Dep says:

    The thing is, if you counted ALL the lil’ mom&pop broadcasters, up thru the smaller syndicates that existed before Clear Channel bought them all up, they as a GROUP made more money than they do now. And local communities benefitted, since they spent locally.

    It’s not about “efficiencies”. It’s so Wall Street and a VERY few people can make a LOT of money.

    Oh, and raw, naked power. Remember how Clear Channel cracked the whip when everyone (literally) was warning, NO to Iraq! What a different world we’d be in today if those protests were enough to stop the slaughter of so many US servicemen for no reason…

    Media consolidation: it’s Anti-American.

  11. Trai_Dep says:

    Oh, and more people would actually be listening to radio now. I don’t know of anyone that listens to the crap they broadcast now. More listeners, bigger audience, more money… It’s such BAD business.

  12. nad1 says:

    @TRAI_DEP: But from their POV, quantity doesn’t matter…it’s “quality” of listener that matters. (With “quality” meaning– a listener who unfailingly/unquestioningly seeks repetition). ie. a highly-suggestible zombie, receptive to messages of various kinds, be they political, promotional or advert.

  13. r4__ says:

    @cef21: The legislation is about over-the-air broadcasting (i.e. not cable), of which you’re lucky to get six channels. If half of those are owned by the same company that wants to push an agenda that’s a blatant conflict of interests, especially since there’s no one actually in the community that can afford a station to voice a conflicting opinion. It’ll basically be the battle of Trump and Murdoch.

    LPFM saddens me. I could have dozens of stations each programmed by the community with community-generated content (and whatever music the people in my region like) but instead i get the same 10 songs on a clearchannel station and the same 50 songs on another clearchannel station (“oldies”).