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California and the West

Consolidation in Media Is Called Stifling

Hollywood workers and others at an FCC hearing decry the effects of relaxed rules and say local ownership is key.

October 04, 2006|James S. Granelli | Times Staff Writer

Hollywood, not the stars but the everyday workers, along with consumer advocates and local politicians told federal regulators Tuesday that the growing consolidation of major broadcast companies was stifling competition, creativity and diversity.

The result, they told the Federal Communications Commission, was fewer jobs, lower wages, bland programming and decisions made by a handful of conglomerates, not local operators.

Speakers included bassist Mike Mills of rock band R.E.M., "Rockford Files" producer Stephen J. Cannell and out-of-work radio and TV artists. All gave the five FCC members an earful in the first of six public hearings nationwide on overhauling media ownership rules.

Mills said local ownership of radio stations was crucial for new artists because it was the local play of new songs that helped develop talent. Today, he said, decisions are made by top brass in other cities, making it hard for artists to crack local markets.

The FCC held an afternoon session at USC and an evening session at El Segundo High School.

An overhaul of the rules was derailed in 2003 when an overwhelming public outcry over relaxed rules led to congressional action and when a federal appeals court sent the rules back to the FCC to be reworked.

FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin, who has said he was uncomfortable with some parts of the 2003 rules he voted for, said the goal of the hearings was to "more fully and directly involve the American people in the process."

Reps. Diane Watson and Maxine Waters, both of Los Angeles, along with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, decried the effects of growing consolidation.

"Too few people own too much media at the expense of too many people," Jackson said.

Major corporations are looking for loosened rules that allow them to buy more media outlets and to own different kinds of media. Tribune Co., for instance, owns the Los Angeles Times and KTLA-TV Channel 5 in the same market, something that the rules prohibit but the FCC has allowed for now.

Critics, including Waters, said Tribune's Times-KTLA cross-ownership hinders diversity and local decision-making. But KTLA General Manager Vincent Malcolm said that Times reports had added depth to news coverage that the TV station couldn't hope to do alone, bringing local news to viewers who might not read the newspaper.

Commissioners Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein, the agency's two Democrats who opposed the last set of rules, set the crowd of about 300 off with comments that media consolidation had gone too far.

"Media is the most powerful enterprise we have," Copps said. "If we are smart about it, our media will reflect the genius, the creativity and diversity of our great country."

Adelstein criticized the agency's "reckless deregulatory policy to eliminate, relax and sometimes simply ignore the obligations that broadcasters have to the American public."

The USC audience cheered every comment on how deregulation has hurt workers and local residents, and roundly booed a lone free-market supporter who said that more competition would come by reducing regulations.

Clear Channel Communications Inc., which owns more than 1,200 radio stations nationwide, came under heavy criticism from speakers who cited the company as an example of the excesses of consolidation.


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