FCC seeks public opinion on changing media laws

WASHINGTON: With a series of recent public hearings, the Federal Communication Commission is attempting to gauge public sentiment on media ownership laws up for review.

WASHINGTON: With a series of recent public hearings, the Federal Communication Commission is attempting to gauge public sentiment on media ownership laws up for review.

But the FCC faces a set of communication challenges that goes beyond calling attention to complex issues of media law.

The FCC faces constant criticism from watchdog groups that believe it to be complicit in a conspiracy to consolidate media ownership in the hands of the few, and thus isn't interested in publicizing the issue.

That's not true, said FCC spokesperson Michelle Russo. "There's been a lot of public interest, and we welcome it," she said. "This has been one of the largest public-comment periods in the FCC's history."

The increased interest, she said, is a result of simplifying the commenting process on the FCC's website.

"That's something to be applauded," said Peter Hart, an analyst at the watchdog FAIR. But he insisted that the FCC hasn't been aggressive enough in making the issue relevant to the public. "If you're not actively engaging people, you're not doing a very good job. It's about whether they're reaching the people to get them interested."

The blame, said Mediachannel.org's Danny Schechter, falls in part to the media, as "they don't have an interest in getting people interested in this. People don't see a relationship between media law and what they see on TV or hear on the radio."

However, the largest operator of radio stations disagreed that conglomeration dumbs down content. "The advertisers are happy and the listeners are happy," said Lisa Dollinger, SVP of marketing and communications for Clear Channel Radio. "It's special-interest groups that have been very vocal.

"Radio today is more creative, professional, and vibrant than ever before," she added. "If it weren't, it wouldn't be the only medium enjoying growth in customers, as opposed to TV, movies, and so on."

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