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MEDIA COMPLICITY ARTICLE 8
 
8. MEDIA - FCC Chairman Michael Powell Exposed

FCC Chairman Michael Powell announced Friday he will step down in March,

modestly proclaiming he had "completed a bold and aggressive agenda." Powell

will be best remembered for his crackdown on Janet Jackson's right breast and

other crimes against decency (prompting Saving Private Ryan to be canceled on

Veteran's Day and the pixilation of a cartoon baby's butt). But Powell's most

lasting impact will be rewriting the rules of media ownership on behalf of

corporate conglomerates to allow for greater consolidation. Powell has set a

course that erodes media diversity, competition and independence. Write the

president and tell him you want a new FCC chairman to "stop further media

consolidation, enforce public interest obligations, increase the diversity of voices

in the media, and create policies that will encourage universal, low-cost access

to the Internet."

POLICIES FOR FOX AND VIACOM, NOT CONSUMERS: In June 2003,

Powell marshaled through new rules that allowed for the continued consolidation

of media ownership. Under the old rules, a single company couldn't own a group

of individual stations that reach more than 35 percent of the national audience.

Powell increased that to 45 percent. While there was no apparent benefit to

consumers, it was a windfall for companies like Fox and Viacom which,

at the time of the rule change, already owned stations that reached nearly 40

percent of the audience and could have been forced to sell. (The percentage was

reduced to 39 percent by Congress just high enough so Fox and Viacom wouldn't

have to sell.)

COURT FINDS POWELL'S DECISIONS LACKED JUSTIFICATION:

The June 2003 rules also allowed one corporation to own more stations in a

single market. Under the old rules, corporations were limited to one station in

most markets and two in the largest markets. Powell changed the rules to allow

for ownership of two stations in most markets and three in the largest markets.

The rules also lifted rules restricting cross ownership of print and broadcast media

in a single market. In June 2004, a federal court blocked implementation of all the

rules, finding that the commission fell short "of its obligation to justify its

decisions to retain, repeal or modify its media ownership regulations with reasoned

analysis." The FCC is now required to revisit its decision.

ANTI-CONSUMER POLICIES CRAFTED BEHIND CLOSED DOORS:

On numerous occasions while at the FCC, Powell met with top corporate media

executives in closed-door, off-the-record meetings. Leading up to the June 2003

rule changes, Powell met privately with top executives of Viacom, NBC, Gannet

and News Corp., including Rupert Murdoch. Kevin Martin, a Republican

commissioner, had 16 private sessions with broadcasters through June 2003, the

most of any commissioner. In all, the FCC held 71 meetings with corporate media

interests before the rulemaking, compared to just five with major consumer groups.

DIGITAL DIVIDE WIDENS: During Powell's tenure, the gap between the

technological haves and have-nots widened. Powell made it clear from the

beginning that he didn't care. Shortly after assuming the chairmanship of the

FCC, Powell attacked the notion that the digital divide was a problem, declaring,

"I think there's a Mercedes Benz divide, I'd like one, but I can't afford it." As a

result, during Powell's tenure "there has been almost no increase in the percentage

of households with Internet access at home. Penetration has been stuck at 60

percent." Of households that lack Internet access, four-fifths have incomes below

$50,000. The FCC's policies under Powell created "a cozy duopoly of broadband

providers: the Bells and the cable-TV companies ... [which] have been slow to push

 for higher broadband speeds or fast price declines." The result: "Americans pay

ten and twenty times as much, on a megabit basis, as consumers in Korea and

Japan pay. Three years ago the price gap was half as large."

MEET THE NEW BOSS, WORSE THAN THE OLD BOSS: Kevin Martin,

who worked for the Bush-Cheney transition team before being appointed to the

FCC, "is believed to top a short list of candidates" to replace Powell. Martin has

followed "a more stringent deregulatory path than Powell" meaning he would

permit even greater media consolidation. Martin is also "considered more hard-line

on indecency issues than Powell."