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FCC Takes Fire From GOP and Democrats at Hearing on Media Ownership

Congressman Greg Walden
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republicans call the FCC rules outmoded and outdated. Democrats suggest some are ineffective. The gulf between the parties on just what role the federal government should play in limiting the concentration of media was on full display at a congressional hearing on Wednesday, with an agency official left to try to explain where things stand.

Every four years, the FCC is tasked with reviewing its rules governing media ownership, regulations that limit the number of TV and radio stations can own, or that prohibit a company from owning a newspaper and station in the same market.

That latter rule, dating to the mid-1970s, was frequently cited by Republicans at a House Energy & Commerce subcommittee as proof that the regulations no longer make sense: Most major city papers are struggling and would benefit from combining with a local TV station.

“Our laws need to reflect the reality of the world we live in today, not the reality of the Ford administration,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon), the chairman of the communications and technology subcommittee.

Paul Boyle, senior VP of public policy for the Newspaper Assn. of America, said that the rule limiting newspaper-TV station cross-ownership “makes no sense” and eliminating it would free up investment. “For too long investors have been sitting on the sidelines,” he told the subcommittee.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) warned “not to rollback what few protections we have in some key areas,” citing the concentration of stations to a handful of station groups and the fact that so much news on the Internet is aggregated. Of the 25 top news websites, 20 of them rely on news gathered by traditional media, she said.

The FCC never completed its 2010 review of media ownership rules, and the process has been delayed so long that it’s run into its next review period. William Lake, chief of the FCC’s Media Bureau, told the subcommittee that the failure to complete the 2010 review was “not for lack of effort.” He said that the problem was the report “failed to receive a majority” of the FCC commissioners. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has set a goal for the 2010 and 2014 reports to be completed in 2016, he said.

Yet even with the rules currently on the books, some public interest groups say the media has still consolidated to the detriment of women and minorities.

Jessica Gonzalez, executive vice president and general counsel of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, singled out Clear Channel and its Los Angeles radio station, KFI-FM, for shows that “dehumanize” women and people of color. In written testimony, she singled out “The John and Ken Show” as examples of “vicious hate speech,” and said they have “mercilessly targeted Latinos, Korean Americans, Native Americans, gay men, and the poor.”

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), slammed the FCC for not doing enough to address a slide in media ownership among minorities.

“I don’t see any work being done in solving this problem,” he said.

Lake said that they are “constantly taking concrete action. We are constantly looking at things we can do.” But he said that the Supreme Court has limited the FCC’s ability to take actions that are race or gender based.

Pictured: Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon).