Two U.S. Senators are trying to turn up the heat on the Federal Communications Commission as it ponders changes to the rules governing media ownership.
Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., announced their opposition on Wednesday to an FCC proposal that they say would clear the path for more conglomeration in broadcast TV, radio stations, and printed newspapers in the nation’s largest media markets.
“We cannot live in a vibrant democracy unless people get divergent sources of information and have the opportunity to have serious debate about the major issues of the day,” Sanders said.
FCC rules currently limit the cross-ownership of TV stations and daily newspapers in the 20 largest markets. The proposed rule change has not been made public yet. Chairman Julius Genachowski has circulated the order for a vote among the FCC commissioners, but that vote has been delayed until early next year, and the changes will be open to public comment.
According to Cantwell, the vote was delayed thanks to the intercession of FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. She was questioned on this issue in her recent confirmation hearing by Cantwell and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Bill Lake, who heads the Media Bureau at the FCC, said in a statement, “Reports that the order would make it easier to own a top TV station and a major newspaper in a market are wrong. In fact, the order would strengthen the current rule by creating an express presumption against a waiver of the cross-ownership ban to allow such a combination."
The financially strapped newspaper industry has come out in support of the rule change. “Quite simply, the cross-ownership ban has outlived its original purpose and no longer serves the public interest,” wrote Newspaper Association of America President Caroline Little in an op-ed published on Monday in Politico.
However, Sanders said that given the current concentration of media ownership, it would be a mistake to relax current rules. “It’s an illusion to believe that just because you have an Internet, you do not have to worry about media consolidation in terms of radio, television, and newspapers,” he said.
The last time the FCC proposed to update media-ownership rules when Republican Kevin Martin chaired the commission, Congress blocked the changes with a resolution of disapproval. Cantwell said, "I’m confident that we will push forward in Congress to do the same thing again."