Senate Passes Cantwell-Backed Resolution of Disapproval
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution of disapproval, supported by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), invalidating the Federal Communications Commission’s decision last December to eliminate its long-standing ban on the common ownership of a daily newspaper and broadcast station in the same market.
Senator Cantwell’s floor statement, as prepared for delivery, is below:
“Mr. President, I rise today to express my strong support for Senate Joint Resolution 28 to invalidate the Federal Communications Commission’s decision last December to eliminate its long-standing ban on the common ownership of a daily newspaper and broadcast station in the same market. I would like to thank Senator Dorgan for his continued leadership on this issue, fighting to safeguard competition, diversity and localism in media market.
“Ownership of the broadcast and print media touches some of our most core American values -- freedom of speech, open and diverse viewpoints, vibrant economic competition, and local diversity
“Attention to diversity and localism have served America well by expanding economic opportunities and energizing civic discourse. Diversity and localism promote competition and choices for advertisers. They create opportunities for small companies, minorities, and women. They allow innovative programming to find an outlet. They ensure the flow of information necessary to inform the democratic process. They guarantee that the interests of each community are served.
“Diversity in the media energizes our democracy. Viewpoint diversity, program diversity, outlet diversity, source diversity, and woman and minority ownership diversity make us stronger as a nation.
“Having independent sources of news helps citizens form more intelligent opinions about the world around them – locally, nationally, and globally.
“While increased media consolidation may be good for Wall Street, it is bad for Main Street.
“I for one am committed to not letting this happen, and I know many of my colleagues feel the same way.
“So, how did we get here? The answer feels a little like Groundhog Day.
“Back in 2002, the FCC initiated its Biennial Review Process, announcing that the agency would review its full range of broadcast ownership rules. But, the announcement of the “review” was the only thing conducted in public.
“On June 23, 2003, by a 3-2 party line vote, the FCC issued its new rules on media ownership. Then Chairman Powell did not issue the proposed rules for public comment prior to the vote. Yet, after the rule was issued, nearly three million people weighed in at the FCC by letters, postcards, e-mails, and petitions to oppose further relaxation of the rules
“The Senate sent a clear message to the FCC at the time -- voting 55-40 to invalidate the media consolidation rules.
“And when the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the FCC decision in 2003, they determined it “was not supported by reasoned analysis.”
“In December 2007, the FCC passed the new media ownership rule, barely a month after it was proposed, allowing very little time for public comment and even less time for consideration of those comments.
“While Chairman Martin likes to speak about allowing public comment over 120 days and six hearings around the country, all of this was done BEFORE the announcement of what rules would actually change. And he ignored the public testimony anyway.
“For example, on November 9, the Commission held the last of its six media ownership public hearings in Seattle. Despite a mere week’s notice and the inconvenient timing of a Friday afternoon before a three-day weekend, nearly eight hundred of my constituents spent up to nine hours at Town Hall, letting the Commission know their thoughts on increased media concentration – that it hurts competition, diversity, and localism, and is therefore not in the public interest.
“Chairman Martin received an earful in Seattle. But clearly he did not hear what people had to say. A few days later, the proposed media ownership rules were released through a November 13th New York Times op-ed and a Commission press release.
“While it is possible that the rules were drafted in the few days after the November 9 Seattle meeting, it all had the feel of a done deal.
“When it comes to loosening this particular media ownership rule, my sense is that the Chairman knew his answer even before the Commission began addressing the Third Circuit remand and initiating its review.
“A number of my colleagues and I wondered how the Chairman intended to reach this predetermined conclusion in such a way that a court would not once again remand the rule because of the underlying assumptions and methodology used. The public is already skeptical that increased media consolidation is in their best interest – so how do you sell it to them?
“A common pattern emerged. Economic studies were commissioned that can’t hold up to peer review, data not supportive of the predetermined conclusion was withheld, public hearings were held that had that “check the box” feeling, mere lip service was paid to localism and women and minority ownership issues, and there was limited time for public comment on the proposed rule. All this adds up to a general lack of transparency.
“FCC Chairman Martin claims these new media consolidation rules are needed because of the competitive threat posed to the newspaper industry by the Internet. But that argument just doesn’t hold water.
“Business models of successful firms in competitive industries are not static, they are dynamic. The newspaper industry is experiencing growing pains in adapting its historic business model and single delivery platform to a world where there are multiple distribution platforms for news and advertising.
“Others are claiming that consolidation is necessary because newspapers are facing revenue shortfalls. Frank Blethen of the Seattle Times, one of the few remaining independently-operated and family-owned newspapers in America, testified before the Commerce Committee that the newspaper industry is profitable, it is just that the margins are not as large as they once were.
“And the reality is that newspapers may indeed be facing some short-term revenue shortfalls – but this is a reflection of the general economy. Housing advertisements have always been a big part of newspaper revenues. But as all American know too well, the housing market is in a serious slump. We can not ignore the short-term impact this may have on newspapers, and it certainly does not justify overturning the long-held American values of media diversity and localism.
“The FCC media ownership rules were created decades ago to foster the three longstanding goals of U.S. media policy – competition, localism, and diversity of voices. Industry experts, elected officials of all ranks, and the American people have come together in an overwhelming chorus to disapprove of the FCC’s new rule, yet they went ahead with it anyway.
“As a Commission charged with representing the best interests of the people in regards to communication policy, the FCC is simply not doing its job.
“I asked my colleagues to step up and ensure the Senate does our job correctly.”
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