LOTT: The FCC's Mistake | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

LOTT: The FCC's Mistake

The Federal Communications Commission has voted in favor of rules allowing more concentrated media ownership in which newspapers can own radio stations, TV stations or vice versa within the same market area. I think the FCC made a mistake. I know less concentrated ownership would better serve Mississippians, and I oppose these new rules.

Ever since my mother worked at a local radio station in Pascagoula, I have interacted with the media. The nature of my job has enabled me to work with various forms of media from small weekly papers to huge mega-networks and newspaper chains. As your senator I've had an up-close view of the dramatic changes in the availability, delivery, content and composition of media for broadcast and print, and I've helped implement policies that contributed to these developments. This experience includes the watershed Telecommunications Act of 1996 that capped single-company ownership at 35 percent of national viewership.

However, the FCC's latest ruling would increase national viewership caps from 35 percent to 45 percent, and it would lift the current ban that prohibits single company ownership of a newspaper and TV station in the same local media market. Not surprisingly, some of the biggest proponents of scrapping the ban are huge media chains, including the metropolitan Washington, D.C.-based Gannett company, which already owns two of Mississippi's largest newspapers, including The Clarion-Ledger. Critics have long labeled Gannett as a company producing indistinguishable, cookie-cutter publications dictated by corporate formula, and I am among many Mississippians very uncomfortable with the prospect of Gannett or any other huge super-paper chains extending their ownership into the broadcast sectors of their existing markets. This could starve out smaller, more locally driven broadcast or print alternatives, leaving readers, listeners or viewers with a diminished, degraded or less locally reflective product.

This is a question of fairness and access for both small media organizations and media consumers. Already in many cities throughout the country, big corporate-owned daily newspapers have virtual monopolies on print advertising and the print news market. To extend that monolithic power into the much broader, more diverse and highly competitive broadcast spectrum is monopolistic. Mississippi is fortunate that most of our state's media outlets remain either locally owned, or owned by smaller, more regional chains that seem to have more sensitivity and knowledge of local needs and local people. Yet, Mississippi's largest and most influential print media in particular are no longer locally owned, but are part of huge deep-pocket corporations whose corporate structure, editorial agenda, hiring decisions and content are not always reflective of community values.

Thanks to input received from smaller broadcasters and newspaper owners in our state, I believe Mississippians are apprehensive of having too much media concentration with any single company. With too much concentration, companies no longer have to be competitive with rates or product. There would be less incentive to produce something fresh, something different, something priced reasonably or something that caters to another point of view. Already in some markets, advertisers and customers have no choice but to use one particular media outlet. Unlike in the retail or services sector, too often media advertisers and consumers cannot express themselves by channeling their dollar to a competitor, because there is no similar print or broadcast competitor. In some markets, this already limited or nonexistent choice will be reinforced or made worse by the FCC's latest rules.

Big is not bad, but this question involves publicly owned broadcast airwaves and an already troubling situation in which big national print chains in particular already have virtual monopolies in some places. Putting those two together doesn't seem wise. Expanding concentration of media ownership may be in the best interest of huge Washington- or New York-based media giants, but it would not be in the best interest of Mississippi's smaller media owners or media consumers like you and me.

Sen. Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column. Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office). You can call his Jackson office at 965-4644 or fax to 965-4007.

Editor's note: Go to http://www.moveon.org to sign a petition to help stop the new ownership rules.

Previous Comments

ID
68391
Comment

FYI, all, the Clarion-Ledger (to its credit) ran this column by Sen. Lott today ... criticizing them.

Author
ladd
Date
2003-06-13T11:18:00-06:00
ID
68392
Comment

"but are part of huge deep-pocket corporations whose corporate structure, editorial agenda, hiring decisions and content are not always reflective of community values." What exactly does this mean? Someone from the CL pointed it out and it does seem questionable. Although, I agree with the main focus.

Author
bingo
Date
2003-06-13T12:33:36-06:00
ID
68393
Comment

Bingo, that statement is a good clue as to how Lott and the JFP can agree on this issue, but probably have different motives. One reason Mr. Lott is probably against the relaxation of the ownership rules is because he considers the Clarion-Ledger too "liberal" and, thus, not reflective of the community "values" of his vision of Mississippi (and he wants to protect religious broadcasting). I just find the paper corporate bland with its eye on the profit margin over the community, especially the city of Jackson. Ultimately, though, I don't think the motives matter too much at this stage: the point is that we don't need monopoly media owning every outlet in town and watering down the dialogue with coverage geared toward a, say, 30 percent profit margin. Now, I do hope that Mr. Lott will extend his concern about monopolies to other industries as well. We'll have to keep an eye out for that. ;-) Meantime, I believe in forming multi-partisan coalitions to protect locally owned businesses and media outlets of all sorts, and I'm happy to stand beside Lott on that one, even if we might disagree down the line at a different stage.

Author
ladd
Date
2003-06-13T13:00:06-06:00
ID
68394
Comment

Has Sen. Lott changed his views on race? Jerry Mitchell explores this a bit in today's Clarion-Ledger: http://www.clarionledger.com/news/0306/16/m03.html It's certainly a good sign that he's attending the Medgar Evers memorial service, I'd say, although it may be merely symbolic. But, remember, this is the senator who has refused to support a number of race intiatives over the years, including a simple resolution to honor Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, the three young men killed in my hometown in 1964. For a refresher on his race history, read the historical piece we published back in December: http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/cover_comments.php?id=524_0_9_0_C Meantime, I think it's great that he's attending this service. It sends the right message.

Author
ladd
Date
2003-06-16T11:58:16-06:00
ID
68395
Comment

Ladies and gentlemen, we have the power to reverse the FCC's ownership rules from last week. Here, respected corporate media critic Bob McChesney, along with The Nation's John Nichols, tells you how. Just follow the steps. http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=16179

Author
ladd
Date
2003-06-17T14:25:58-06:00
ID
68396
Comment

In case you missed it, the Senate is trying to fix the mess that the FCC tried to make. John Nichols writes for The Nation: "[T]he Senate Commerce Committee responded with rare haste to the public outcry that followed the FCC decision. In a sweeping rejection of the agency's decision to provide already large media conglomerates with opportunities to extend their dominance of the nation's political and cultural discourse, the committee on Thursday endorsed a legislative package that reverses the worst of the rule changes. The legislation also orders the FCC to open up the closed and corrupted process by which it considers rule changes." http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=16269

Author
ladd
Date
2003-07-05T11:59:13-06:00

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