Other than voting, there may be no more important civic duty you perform this year than attending the Federal Communication Commission's public hearing about media consolidation on January 28.
Yes, the subject sounds a bit dry, but if you care about the quality of the news and information that is beamed into your home via television and radio, or that is printed in the newspaper, then it is essential that you show up; you can bet Clear Channel representatives and lobbyists will be there. Even if you choose not to comment publicly, it will be a great lesson in how democracy does - or doesn't - function.
New FCC rules passed last June - but stuck in the courts - would allow companies to own more TV stations within a market, own broadcast stations and newspapers in the same market, and further narrow the number of voices and viewpoints within the media. Controversy over the FCC ruling has prompted members of the Commission's Localism Task Force to hold public hearings about the issue.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell and Commissioners Kathleen Abernathy, Michael Copps, and Jonathan S. Adelstein - also members of the Localism Task Force - will visit San Antonio that evening for a hearing about the local effects of media consolidation. It will be held from 5:30-9:30 p.m. at City Council Chambers, at Main and Commerce streets. City Council Chambers holds only 275 people; seating will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The commission will also accept written comments.
San Antonio is one of eight U.S. cities to host these hearings; a hearing was held in Charlotte, North Carolina last fall. Minutes of that meeting are available at www.fcc.gov. In the search box, type "localism Charlotte minutes."
In the January 15 and 22 issues, the Current will feature many stories addressing media consolidation and its ramifactions. These articles will:
• Explain how media consolidation affects you in your daily life.
• Lay out who owns what in San Antonio - newspapers, TV, and radio - including the Current.
• Provide a history of media law and illustrate how these regulations have been eroded by corporate interests.
• Present alternatives to media consolidation and explain how those systems could work.
• Explore how technology - satellite radio, TV, and the web - interacts with media consolidation.
• Address the issue of minority broadcasting, and the threat posed by media consolidation, particularly in the Hispanic market.
• Look at grassroots efforts to reclaim the airwaves.
• Dissect newscasts, comparing and contrasting local television stations' offerings.
• Examine how consolidation affects print media, as the new regulations would allow broadcast companies to also own newspapers.
• List events surrounding the hearing, including teach-ins, in San Antonio and Austin.
It is the Current's goal that this series educate our readers about the importance of this issue, enable them to address the FCC, and inspire them to become involved in efforts to stake a claim in their local media. •