FCC bringing its big show to West Coast

Guest column

DO INDEPENDENT CONTENT producers have a meaningful shot at getting their creative genius on TV or radio today? That’s what the Federal Communications Commission is coming to L.A. this week to ask.

Three years ago, the FCC tried to eliminate the few ownership rules still on our books that check Big Media’s seemingly endless appetite for consolidation. The agency did so — over our strong objections — quickly, quietly, and without seeking the involvement of the American people.

The response was a genuine citizens’ revolt. Nearly three million people contacted the FCC with letters and e-mails protesting the agency’s foolish decision. Prominent members of the Hollywood community joined the fray.

Diane English, for example, wrote the Senate Commerce Committee a letter we’ll never forget. When she first pitched “Murphy Brown” to a network, she got the following suggestions: (1) get rid of the “smartness of the references” to Camus, Margaret Mead, and Indira Ghandi; (2) make Murphy ten years younger and cast Heather Locklear rather than Candice Bergen; (3) and describe her as “stressed out” and returning from a spa, rather than a recovering alcoholic.

English told the Senators that she ultimately got her way — and made the network a bundle of money — only because of FCC “fin-syn” rules that put a wall between production companies and the big networks. She always could threaten to walk down the street and sell the program to another network. The fin-syn rules were eliminated by an earlier FCC, but many readers of this paper tell us we are still paying a heavy price because of the consolidation that ensued.

The pro-consolidation attempt three years ago had a (temporarily, at least) happier ending — a grassroots rebellion, outrage from Congress and court action stopped that mindless deregulation. But now the Commission is considering new rules again and there’s no guarantee of a better outcome. If our decision this time around is going to be any better than the last one, we need to hear from the American people, specifically including the creative community that has lived through these changes and often had to pay the cost of growing content and conduit consolidation.

So on Tuesday, Oct. 3, all five FCC Commissioners are going to be here in Los Angeles to learn from you.

OUR AFTERNOON HEARING will focus on issues affecting the creative community. After all, broadcasters are given licenses to use the public airwaves — for free — only because they agree to put on good quality programming that serves the public interest. We want to know whether you think the current system encourages them to do so, or whether it just encourages advertisers and the networks to pad their bottom lines by tightening their control over program production and distribution. No one in the world is better positioned to answer this question than the folks living here whose lives have been so directly affected by these changes, in terms of their ability to work and create and enjoy the benefits of innovative, diverse programming.

A second panel will focus on other critically important media issues affecting all of L.A.’s citizens. For instance, do you believe that the full range of diversity in this amazing city is reflected in its local media? One complaint we hear again and again is that African-Americans, Latinos and other minorities get on the air only in stories about crime or immigration. A wide variety of scholarly research confirms this testimony. We have also heard tragic stories of jobs and careers falling under the onslaught of consolidation. We want to know what you’ve noticed about your local media — and what you think the FCC should do to fix it.

This is not a red state vs. blue state, Republican vs. Democrat, or left vs. right issue. It is about whether our media will reflect the diversity and creative genius of all our regions and all our people — or just the business plans of a few mega-players. It is also about whether media rules that affect every American are going to be made by a few behind closed doors — or with the public’s full involvement. The outcome depends upon a frank and open national discussion. It depends upon you. We’ve learned one thing during our years in Washington: Decisions without you are often decisions against you. Please join us on Tuesday.

By Commissioners Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein. The authors are two members of the five-member Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC will hold a public hearing on media ownership on Tuesday, Oct. 3. Part I of the hearing will focus on the creative community and independent programming. It will be held from 1:00 to 4:30 p.m. at the USC Davidson Conference Center Embassy Room. Part II of the hearing will focus on an overview of the Los Angeles market. It will be held from 6:30 to 10:00 p.m. at El Segundo High School.

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