Bipartisan Bill to Put the Brakes on FCC

A few weeks ago Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) uncovered that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was rushing forward with a secret plan to gut media ownership rules. Since then, Chairman Martin has ignored repeated requests and warnings from senators on both sides of the aisle calling on him to slow down, address the dismal state of female and minority ownership, and listen to the public.

Today, at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, members indicated that they wouldn’t take it anymore. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) announced plans to introduce legislation that would halt the Federal Communications Commission’s rush to gut longstanding media ownership rules.

Sen. Kerry You Spoke Out and Congress RespondedNew Legislation Would Force FCC to Listen to the Public

“We believe localism and diversity of media ownership is vital in a democracy,” Senator Dorgan said. “Our bill recognizes the importance of a wide range of media owners and local content, and requires a process that does not rush past those concerns to open the gates for even more consolidation of media ownership. We believe there is value to local ownership in the media.”

“Communities count on getting their local news from their locally owned television stations and weekly and daily newspapers,” Senator Lott said. “They know locally owned means they’re invested in their communities and care about their well-being. If the FCC won’t do their job to keep East and West Coast media conglomerates from pushing out these local voices, then there is a role for the Congress to play.”

The bipartisan “Media Ownership Act of 2007” is co-sponsored by Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.).

The bill directs the FCC to conduct a separate proceeding on localism and create an independent minority and female ownership task force before moving forward with any changes to media ownership limits. The bill would also give the public a 90-day comment period on any proposed rules.

“We are thrilled to see members from both sides of the aisle stand up for the public. This critical legislation will restore fairness and transparency in what has become a corrupt process at the FCC,” said Ben Scott, policy director at Free Press. “In the rush to gut media ownership rules, the Commission has ignored the American people, neglected the media diversity crisis, and buried evidence that consolidation harms local communities. The Media Ownership Act would hold the FCC accountable for listening to the public and ensuring that the public airwaves reflect America’s diverse local communities.”

News of this bill comes just one day before the final FCC hearing on media ownership in Seattle. At other public hearings, in Chicago, Tampa, Portland, Harrisburg, Nashville, and Los Angeles, thousands of concerned citizens expressed their opposition to any rule changes that would let Big Media companies swallow up more local outlets. At the last hearing in Washington, Chairman Martin admitted that he could only think of one person not affiliated with a media company who had testified in favor of media consolidation in any of these hearings.

This bill is an important reminder from Congress that the FCC must answer to the public, not corporate interests.

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