Liveblogging The Senate Commerce Committee Hearing On Media Consolidation

Starting at 10 a.m., the Senate Commerce Committee will try to derail the Federal Communications Commission’s plans to make it easier for any one company to control several radio and television stations in the same city. The move would benefit the six major conglomerates that own the vast majority of media outlets to the detriment of minorities and local interests, whose voice is rarely represented in the broader media.

Senators will hear from just one panel featuring the Dean of Northwestern’s Medill School, along with representatives from the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the Capitol Broadcasting Company, the Parents Television Council and The Seattle Times.

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) met the FCC’s proposal by predicting that there would be a firestorm of protest, and that he would be carrying the wood. Join us at 10 a.m. to see if the former Boy Scout makes good on his promise.
(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

09:55: Video Link – The Wrath of Stevens has hobbled the Commerce Committee’s webcam in the past. Set buffers to max.
10:00: Chairman Inouye is stuck in traffic. Dorgan will fan the flames until he arrives.

10:02: Dorgan doesn’t think there is a single reason to relax media ownership rules.
10:02: It’s “galloping concentration,” which Dorgan finds “quite unhealthy.” Maybe the concentration should slow to a moderate trot?
10:03: The task forces on localism never complete their work, but no, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wants to gallop to a December 18 vote.
10:04: Dorgan: “I think that is a horrible idea.”
10:05: The FCC will ask for greater reporting requirements so they know how consolidation affects the media and coverage, but it isn’t yet in place, so they don’t yet know consolidation’s effect. But they want to relax
10:06: The public has one month to comment. “That doesn’t meet any measure of reasonableness.”
10:06: Dorgan has legislation. He wants:

  • A 90-day comment period;
  • A study on localism, which must take 90-days.

10:07: “The Chair is not in a position to credibly suggest that we need a vote by December.”
10:08: “I feel strongly, as you can tell.”
10:08: Oh good, Senator Stevens is expected to talk.
10:08: Senator Inouye is out of traffic, and wants to submit his statement for the record.
10:09: Senator Stevens is punting to Senator Nelson (D-FL), whose Southern drawl makes us wish we made coffee this morning.
10:09: Nelson: “The airwaves belong to the people, and the broadcasters still have a responsibility to respond to local needs.”
10:10: Nelson likes competition, thinks it should be able to deliver the best product at the best price to consumers. But there is no more competition!
10:12: Stevens is talking!
10:12: He refused to buy a TV for his kids, so his kids ran to neighbors (right, for the tv,) so his neighbor asked why the hell the Senator wouldn’t just buy a tv?
10:13: Stevens has a different understanding of diversity: “The issues Congress faces are very diverse, but do have to focus on them.”
10:14: Stevens is wondering how the tubes are changing the landscape, and wants a better understanding of that as the FCC proceeds with its rule.
10:14: Senator Kerry (D-MA) is wearing that hated salmon tie while warning of an impending groundhog day.
10:15: “We have an insufficient process by which the public can judge the proposed changes.” Americans shouldn’t accept excuses about unintended consequences about these changes.
10:16: Chairman Martin hasn’t yet told Congress what exactly he plans on voting on. The proposal isn’t finalized, so how can Congress or the public possibly have an informed discussion? Right, they can’t.
10:18: There is not a single minority-owned TV station in New York, Washington, or Boston. Minority ownership is declining.
10:18: The FCC’s first responsibility is to facilitate diversity and localism. Isn’t that two responsibilities? Either way, not on the list: helping media conglomerates.
10:19: Senator Smith (R-OR) shares the same goal as everyone else, “but we can’t perform the market perform a certain way when the economics aren’t there.” Competition isn’t what the free market wants, so let’s call it a day and go fishing.
10:21: Senator Lott (R-MS) is co-sponsoring Dorgan’s legislation, and wants to hear a view other than the FCC’s, and is looking forward to the witness’ testimony.
10:21: Senator Real Player Cantwell (D-WA) wants her colleagues to “look at the Constitution, look at your constituents.” Constituents deserve to have diversity, and to have that diversity protected.
10:22: Diversity and localism promote competition.
10:23: The last FCC hearing on consolidation will be held tomorrow in Seattle. The public was given four days notice. “There is a sense that the die has already been cast.”
10:26: We have consensus on at least one point: The FCC is moving way too fast.
10:28: Senator Snowe (R-ME) wants the FCC to listen closely to today’s hearing while remembering that the Senate has a penchant for smacking down consolidation attempts.
10:29: Chairman Inouye spoke with the Chairman yesterday to explain that he thinks they should slow down.
10:29: He even scheduled another hearing for mid-December with the FCC – right before their planned vote.
10:30: Onto the witnesses.
10:30: First, Alex Nogales, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
10:31: Minority ownership is in crisis. The country is diversifying, but the media is not.
10:32: Ownership determines content. “We cannot build a just society if the hands of the few determine the needs of the many.” Clever phrasing.
10:32: The FCC has never produced an accurate count of minority licenses.
10:32: The FCC has ignored instructions from Congress and the courts to advance minority ownership.
10:32: Essentially, minorities don’t own media outlets because the FCC hates minorities. There, he said it.
10:33: They want an independent task force from the FCC to discuss minority ownership. Chairman Martin finds this proposal laughable.
10:35: Concentrated media ownership results in speech that is hateful towards minorities.
10:36: Hate-speech is now pushed by *ahem*Clear Channel*ahem* and other conglomerates that aren’t accountable to local communities.
10:36: There is one fellow in Oklahoma advocating to cut the arms off anyone who doesn’t speak English. Quoth the head of the National Hispanic Media Coalition: “that is very directly against the latino community.”
10:37: Onto Frank A. Blethen, Publisher and Chief Executive Officer of The Seattle Times.
10:38: His family has lived in Seattle for 111 years. Ok, he has credibility.
10:38: He is accountable only to his local community and his heritage.
10:38: Localism has been abandoned by Congress and the FCC.
10:39: Concentrated media ownership abounds and companies no longer invest in journalism, which is why nobody understands public policy anymore. People, he’s calling you illiterate boobs that can’t understand what I’m saying because of media consolidation. That’s harsh.
10:40: The economic model is apparently not broken, papers are still profitable.
10:41: The only way to save local papers is to stop the FCC from relaxing ownership rules.
10:41: He’s challenging Congress to keep the ban on cross-ownership and to create incentives for minority ownership.
10:42: Tim Winter, President of the Parents Television Council is talking. Apparently he was a staffer on the Senate Commerce Committee under Chairman Magnusson (D-WA).
10:43: Another nice frame: “The cable industry effectively functions as a cartel.”
10:43: Apparently, the NRA even opposes media consolidation.
10:43: Media companies have not conducted themselves in a way that suggests they should ever be allowed to own more media.
10:44: The Parents Council is concerned that conglomerates don’t respect community decency standards, which is required by their licenses.
10:44: There was one incident involving horse semen, but he doesn’t really feel comfortable talking about it. Dang.
10:45: When someone complained, they received a letter saying that programming decisions come from the network, not the affiliates.
10:45: The media is all to happy to protect the interests of their corporate parents.
10:46: A Federal court recently ruled that TV stations could air the “F word” whenever they want, even at times when they know millions of kids will be watching.
10:47: This might outrage Americans, except they have no clue that it happened. Not a single network aired the decision. The 24-hour cable channels, which harp at anything that resembles news, offered no coverage.
10:48: Consider Murdoch’s ownership of the Journal. People might be pissed if he demanded that all subscribers of the Journal subscribe to the Post. Well that’s what he did with the Fox Business Network. Nobody needs or wants it, but he bullied carriers into accepting it on all major cable networks.
10:48: We can all name one black-owned station: BET. But what about a second, or a third? Good point.
10:49: Onto Jim Goodmon, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Capitol Broadcasting Company in Raleigh.
10:50: He’s the third-generation owner of the family, and the fourth is on the payroll.
10:50: He almost started crying on Sunday during the Colts-Pats game “because of that beautiful high definition.” Um, that’s just a little weird.
10:51: He’s a big fan of digital television. A super fan.
10:52: “We’re at the end of an era. Things are going to change. So why would you change ownership now?”
10:53: Last time consolidation was proposed, separate groups worked on radio, TV, and newspapers to see how many outlets everyone should own separately.
10:53: Owning two radio stations or two newspapers in and of itself isn’t bad, but when the same company can own all of them in the same market, that’s utter dominance.
10:54: “The local newspaper sets the local agenda.” Television is for breaking news, but papers have political power in a given market. Why should the television stations be allowed to own the paper? They would set and dominate the local political agenda.
10:55: Before the transition to digital is complete, the FCC needs to develop public interest standards.
10:56: Nobody knows who does a good job because there isn’t reporting.
10:57: There needs to be public standards, disclosure, and the transition to digital – then, media ownership can take a place at the table.
10:59: Local newspapers cover local news. Radio and television no longer give a damn about anything local.
11:00: Local papers are funded almost exclusively by advertising, which has been decimated by Craig and his list.
11:01: “Big is not always bad.” National stories need to be covered by big media. What?
11:02: Citizen media needs to step up after the major media sets the agenda. No, that makes no sense.
11:03: Local stations are already dead in local outlets. Their only hope is that the one broadcaster at the TV station, the guy who does sports, teams up with the newspaper to provide coverage. Yeah, that’s a nice utopian vision. And then they go distribute soup to the hungry.
11:05: For the sake of the public, the cross ownership ban must be eliminated. Think of the small towns.
11:05: Senator Smith on a point of personal privilege. He supports diversity. He comes from a small part of Oregon, where radio stations regularly go out of business. The internet is killing his local papers. That’s why he thinks ownership rules should be relaxed. So minorities can enter the marketplace and his local media can be saved.
11:07: Dorgan is complaining that a Texas radio station owner hired a Salt Lake City consultant to determine what the viewers in Fargo, North Dakota wanted to hear.
11:10: Blethen argues that newspapers are still pulling 16%-18% profit. They aren’t scared of Craig.
11:11: They’re transforming to adapt to the internet, to changing demographics, but they’re still doing alright.
11:12: An FCC study from 2004, which wasn’t released to the Committee, showed that local outlets provide content and feed major media conglomerates. Dorgan wants to know if Lavine has an answer to that.
11:13: Lavine: The industries involved are not losing money. They just have diminished capacity to charge for internet content what they charge for print content in order to support the news staff we all know they need.
11:14: The smaller the news outlet, the faster they lose money. The San Francisco Chronicle is apparently losing $1 million per week.
11:15: Lavine doesn’t care if most people get their internet news from major media outlets. But where on the internet can you get local news? Major cities are covered, but what about, say, North Dakota?
11:16: Goodman says every FCC study shows that local ownership leads to more local news. A recent study showed that even local cross ownership leads to less local news.
11:17: Inouye wants to know if Nogales agrees with Lavine that cross ownership would encourage minority ownership.
11:18: Nogales: “Absolutely not!” If there is any money to be made, a major conglomerate will swoop in and sweep it up. Nobody can compete with the sheer amount of money the conglomerates can toss around.
11:19: “We don’t have a voice because we can’t afford it.”
11:19: Cantwell punts back to Blethen. If the ban is eliminated, we will see further disinvestment in journalism, further disinvestment in minority employment.
11:20: Cantwell wants to know how to address studies that show the economics don’t work.
11:21: Blethen has gone bald with frustration over misleading FCC studies. They don’t get the data right, and they hide any discouraging data.
11:22: Senator Smith has left.
11:22: You don’t need to make any changes. Leave the rules in place and take an aggressive stance to promote minority ownership.
11:23: The marketplace will take care of these things, so long as it’s protected from corporate vultures.
11:29: One of the first victims of absentee newspaper owners was Statehouse coverage.
11:30: There has been a massive disinvestment in foreign reporting. The networks used to poor money into foreign bureaus, something that shareholders no longer support. Which is why we get our foreign news straight from the BBC.
11:32: Senator Thune stopped in for a moment to say that “this debate is a timely one.”
11:34: Lavine thinks that a minority-owned newspaper will buy a struggling radio station one day. Ok, sure. FM radio stations, even struggling ones, now cost $200 million. Let’s see the local paper raise $200 million for a struggling radio station. Great investment.
11:37: Thune just doesn’t see how a local paper fights against conglomerates.
11:38: Lavine: ‘Trust me, they cover local issues, they beat the conglomerate on local news.’
11:38: Thune wants to know how much power Station Managers really have over networks.
11:39: They only have the right to preempt network programming based on community decency standards.
11:39: A poll of 100 stations found that only one Station Manager ever preempted content.
11:40: Senator Dorgan is skipping out, possibly to get a bundle of wood.
11:40: Goodmon should have led with this. If the Chairman gets his rule, he could own in North Carolina: 11 TV stations, 30 radio stations, a paper in every major city, and all of the cable systems, too.
11:41: He thinks it’s ridiculous that local papers can produce “better news.” He wants lots of people producing “better news.” Not just one or two outlets.
11:42: Did he just ask for a bailout?
11:42: He said: ‘It sounds a lot like newspapers are asking for financial advice because their audience is declining, and mine is too.’
11:43: Senator Pryor (D-AR) is chairing in Dorgan’s absence.
11:46: Pryor wants to hear more about why Blethen doesn’t trust FCC studies.
11:48: Blethen thinks Congress needs to have an alternate source of data other than the FCC, one that is accountable and responsible.
11:50: Lavine thinks a meta-study is needed to survey the body of work that’s already out there from alternative sources.
11:52: Pryor is concerned that a newspaper would hesitate before criticizing a broadcaster for violating community standards if both are owned by the same company.
11:53: Pryor is also going to urge Martin to back off his planned December vote.
11:54: It’s certainly the sense of the Committee, and probably the Senate, that the FCC should change course.
11:54: The hearing is adjourned. Your move, Kevin Martin.

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