WGA: Caps keep news nets neutral

Debate on the consolidation of congloms continues

HOLLYWOOD — Emphasizing the high stakes regarding the media consolidation issue, the Writers Guild of America has warned that easing ownership rules will lead to compromised news coverage of future wars.

WGA East exec director Mona Mangan issued the statement as a prelude to Wednesday’s hearing on the Federal Communications Commission possibly loosening ownership regs. Event will take place at the Northwestern U. School of Law in Chicago, and FCC commissioner Michael Copps will attend.

“By exploring how media consolidation affects the political process, we bring the issue to the forefront of today’s news,” Mangan said. “How different would coverage be if only a few, politically biased stations covered the war in Iraq? If we lose the checks and balances that diverse opinions and reporting provides to the American people, we will be at the mercy of a few powerful individuals making the decisions of what we see and what we base our opinions on.”

Mangan’s comments came less than a week after FCC chief Michael Powell, an advocate of deregulation, asserted that war in Iraq underlines the need to allow media companies to expand so that they will have the resources and efficiencies to cover global events.

Media concentration

Mangan will appear on a panel on the effect of consolidation on media access along with Common Cause president Chellie Pingree, PR Watch editor Sheldon Rampton and Tribune Co. exec Shaun Sheehan. Tom Carpenter, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists’ national director of news and broadcasting, will appear on a panel devoted to the issue of diversity.

Hearing is the latest chapter in an ongoing debate over consolidation of the congloms. Powell announced last week that he intends to call for a vote on media ownership rules by June 2, although the panel’s two Democrats — Copps and Jonathan Adelstein — have stressed the need for additional hearings.

Heard enough

Powell has held only one official public hearing, saying all sides have had plenty of opportunity to file written comment.

Key regulations up for review include how many media outlets one company can own in the same market and a national cap barring one broadcaster from reaching more than 35% of the national audience.

Showbiz guilds and Hollywood’s independent community have argued that media congloms already have too much power when it comes to owning content and distribution pipelines. The congloms contend that the rules are outdated due to the rise of competing cablers and satcasters.

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