The Media Companies' FCC Wishlist

With war looming on the horizon, the U.S. news media are already moving to wall-to-wall coverage of the conflict. But even as the outlets report on the war, their corporate bosses are seeking political favors from the Bush administration -- and the media executives know it.

The Big Four TV networks, other large broadcasting companies, and most major newspaper chains are currently lobbying the Bush-dominated Federal Communications Commission for new policies designed to promote their corporate interests. They want to end critical rules that limit the number of outlets a single company can control, both at the local and national level. These media giants stand to make untold billions of dollars in profits if the FCC safeguards are eliminated or weakened.

While the absence of critical analysis, including dissenting voices, on TV news programs, for example, can be attributed to the narrow, commercial mind-set of the U.S. media, viewers and readers should also be aware that these news organizations also have a serious conflict of interest what it comes to reporting on the policies of the Bush Administration. News organizations like to claim that their reporting and commentary are independent of the profit-oriented goals of their parent companies. But it is likely that decisions about how to cover the war on Iraq -- especially on television -- may be tempered by a concern not to alienate the White House. More so since the FCC is nearing a late spring ruling that may dramatically change the landscape of media ownership in the United States.

The public deserves to know exactly what the industry is asking for. Here's a thumbnail guide to the lobbying aims by some of the news media's most important companies with regard to the upcoming FCC decision. It doesn't include the many other political favors that the cable and broadcast industry are now seeking, including rules that will determine the future of broadband and the Internet.

Viacom/CBS; NBC/Telemundo; Fox (in partnership): Eliminate "cap" on the number of TV stations a single company can control nationally. End the "dual network" safeguard that prevents one TV network from acquiring another network. End the broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership rule that prevents a broadcaster from owning the major daily in the same market. Finally, remove current limits on local radio station ownership.

Disney/ABC: Eliminate all existing FCC rules on broadcast ownership. Oppose a proposed new policy that would open network prime-time to independent producers.

New York Times Company (includes Boston Globe, and eight TV stations): Eliminate the rule that prevents broadcast and newspaper cross-ownership.

Gannett Company (includes USA Today and 22 TV stations): Eliminate the rule that prevents broadcast and newspaper cross-ownership.

Cox Enterprises (includes the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and a number of TV and radio stations): Repeal the broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership rule. Maintain current limit on TV network station ownership (as opposed to what the four networks want).

Tribune Company (LA Times, Chicago Tribune): Total elimination of the broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership safeguard.

Belo (Dallas Morning News, 19 TV stations): Eliminate the broadcast- newspaper cross-ownership rule, and "relax" the rule that now limits ownership of multiple local TV stations.

Clear Channel Communications: Eliminate local radio ownership limits:

To find out what your local media outlet is asking the Bush administration to do, go to the FCC website and fill in the Proceeding No: 02-277 and then the name of your outlet. Be advised that many companies are represented by their trade association, such as the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) or the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) who are lobbying the FCC on behalf of their members.

The failure of US media to effectively analyze and critique the Iraq war policy of the Administration illustrates why the US needs to drastically restructure its media policies. With the most powerful media outlets in the hands of a few commercially-driven companies, the public is being harrmed. Polls show that 44 percent of all Americans think that some of the hijackers involved in the 9/11 attack were Iraqi nationals. To build a healthy and vital democracy, we urgently need an independent and diverse media system that serves the many rather than the wealthy few.

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