Advocates want public to weigh in on the future of the media
HERE WE GO again. The Federal Communications Commission has opened a 120-day public comment period on complex issues surrounding media ownership.
Last time, in 2003, more than 2 million Americans weighed in on the commission's move to relax ownership rules.
Honolulu media watchdogs are hoping consumers who read newspapers and get local news from television and radio will respond again.
"It is a rare opportunity for the public to weigh in on a critical policy issue," said Sean McLaughlin, founder of Hawaii Consumers LLC, a research and advocacy organization.
Having fewer media owners limits the number of voices in a community, he said. Media consolidation is a huge reason for the explosion of Internet communities, message boards and blogs, he said.
However, not everybody has access to the Internet. "You get cynical, apathetic people who are disconnected because they don't trust how society is governed," McLaughlin said.
"We're becoming everything we hated about the Soviet Empire, only it's the Corporate Empire," he said.
The Honolulu Community-Media Council continues to bird-dog the issue as well.
"We're against more consolidation of ownership at all," said Chris Conybeare, vice chairman of the council and an attorney specializing in media and entertainment issues.
After the last round of public comment and FCC action, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit sent several media ownership issues back to the FCC for more work.
This time, the commission is looking at revising limits on the number of stations that can be commonly owned in a market. It is also reviewing how it should address common ownership of newspapers and broadcast outlets in a market, and other issues.
Representatives for Atlanta-based Cox Radio Inc. and California-based Salem Communications Corp. declined comment for this column, while Texas-based Clear Channel Communications Inc. did not respond to inquiries.
Gannett Co. Inc., based in Virginia, did reply. It owns the Honolulu Advertiser and several smaller publications in Hawaii, as well as USA Today and many other media outlets. Gannett owns television duopolies on the mainland including KUSA and KTVD in Denver, Colo.; and WTLV and WJXX in Jacksonville, Fla. The company will soon have a third, in Atlanta, where it owns WXIA and has purchased WATL.
There has been speculation that Gannett would purchase Honolulu's KHON and KGMB from Indiana-based Emmis Communications Corp., but only KGMB remains to be sold and Tara Connell, Gannett's vice president for corporate communications, would not say whether such a deal was under consideration.
Gannett has for years participated in the effort to overturn the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, she said.
"We're very much in favor of ending that ban. In the last public comment period we argued in favor of ending it and we'll continue to make our case to the FCC," she said.
Since the FCC last voted on similar issues three years ago, more than 3,300 television and radio station licenses have changed hands, "so even under the old rules, consolidation grows, localism suffers and diversity dwindles," FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said in a statement.
He sees that it may be tempting for the public to "see this debate as important only to giant media moguls," but the discussion really "means that this commission has begun to decide, on behalf of the American people, the future of our media.
"It means deciding whether or not to accelerate media concentration, step up the loss of local news and change forever the critical role independent newspapers perform for our country," he said. The debate will have "far reaching implications for the credibility of information Americans get from the media -- for the vitality of the civic dialogue that determines the direction of our democracy -- and for whether TV and radio offer entertainment that is creative, uplifting and local or degrading, banal and homogenized."
The commission has pledged to stage public hearings in geographically diverse locations nationwide, without specifically mentioning Hawaii.
The Hawaii Congressional delegation sponsored a Senate resolution encouraging the commission to have a Hawaii hearing on the localism issue, according to Conybeare.
"Hawaii presents unique circumstances ... where we really would like to have a chance to talk with the FCC about the needs of our island state." What works elsewhere, might not make sense here, he said.
The FCC Web page bears a link for electronic filing of comments, labeled ECFS. The media ownership issue, under Docket 06-121, may be chosen from the menu. Details explaining the range of issues may also be found on the FCC Web site.
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4747, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org