Rap superstar Chuck D appears on stage at the EMP this Friday night along with his new group the Fine Art Militia—and with FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, Hip Hop journalist Davey D, Congressman Jim McDermott, DC rocker Jenny Toomey and others. The occasion for this strange meeting is a rare FCC public hearing in Seattle, taking place at the UW's HUB Auditorium that morning—Friday, March 7, at 9am.
The subject of the hearing is media consolidation—Commissioners Adelstein and Michael Copps want to hear public opinions about a proposal to weaken or erase the FCC's ownership limits ensuring competition, local accountability and diversity in our media. While the hearing has been little-publicized by its university sponsors, a coalition of local media activist and musicians' groups are rolling out the red carpet for the hearings, and expect a large turnout from across the region for the hearing and for the evening event, which will combine entertainment and speakers with opportunities to lobby the FCC and Congress to protect media diversity.
The hearing itself is the public's opportunity to speak directly to the FCC about these issues. Three scheduled panels will begin at 9am, and will be followed by an audience comment period. If more people want to speak than time allows (as occurred last week at a similar hearing in Richmond, VA), they will be able to record their comments at a Reclaim the Media stage outside the official hearings. Making the most out of the day's focus on media policy issues, RTM has also scheduled additional panel discussions to follow the official hearing in the HUB.
Most Americans have never heard of the media policy issues summarily described as "media democracy"—not surprising given the lack of coverage corporate media have given the current FCC review of media ownership rules. Of course, it's not that big media owners don't care about the issue. They care a lot, in fact, submitting hundreds of pages of comments this winter urging the FCC to remove regulatory barriers from more industry consolidation. The media giants think the issue is very important—they just don't think YOU should care very much about who controls the society's information channels. This, by the way, is why Project Censored selected media deregulation the #1 Most Censored Story of 2002.
But FCC Chairman Michael Powell's precipitate assault on the ownership rules has spurred activists, community groups, local governments and labor unions across the country to educate themselves on the arcana of federal communications policy for the purpose of opposing Powell's deregulatory agenda. In Seattle this week, the City Council is considering a resolution opposing media deregulation. The King County Labor Council recently passed a similar resolution urging the Congress to consider legislative remedies should Powell's FCC fail to retain existing diversity and competition protections, at the urging of AFTRA and the Newspaper Guild—representing media employees who understand better than most how megamergers threaten local news coverage, media jobs and journalistic integrity.
Public support for neutral or independent news coverage of US military actions is significantly higher than it was one year ago, according to a recent Pew survey. Increasing numbers of Americans are seeing connections between consolidated ownership and journalistic values. As national media under-represent the breadth of anti-war activism and opponents of war are calling for the media itself to become the focus of future protests. As major news organizations like CNN have instructed correspondents that all war reporting will need to be "cleared" by censors at corporate headquarters; and when radio and TV networks are gearing up to cover the war as partisan sports announcers cheering on the home team, it's not hard to see that opinions unpopular with the powerful will be even more squeezed to the margins than they now are.
The FCC hearing begins at the UW's HUB Auditorium at 9am, March 7. The Future of Media: Action for Media Democracy takes place that night at the EMP; doors open at 7pm. Free (donations accepted), all ages. For more information on both events and the underlying issues, see www.reclaimthemedia.org.