WASHINGTON: The Federal Communications Commission's vote last week to relax key media-ownership rules left the public-interest groups opposing the move vowing to continue their fight.
Until now, the conflict had largely played out in the media, with organizations like Common Cause and Moveon.org warning that deregulation would lead to rampant consolidation of media outlets, limiting the choices available to audiences. But, in the days following the FCC's vote, which fell along party lines and surprised few, these groups said they would turn their attention to sympathetic members of Congress.
"We're taking the battle to the Hill," said Eli Pariser, campaigns director at Moveon.org. "There are indications that there are people on both sides of the aisle who could support us," adding, "the tactics are something we're still working out."
Much like opposition to the war in Iraq earlier this year, foes of deregulation and consolidation have used a wide variety of grassroots tactics to whip up support. As part of a campaign that included protests as well as advertising and PR efforts, last week Moveon.org presented the FCC with more than 150,000 comments opposing deregulation that were posted online.
Already, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he would introduce legislation clarifying that the FCC can impose rules that enforce checks on consolidation.
The vote changed the limit on the reach of a company that owns television stations from 35% of American households to 45%. It also allowed companies to own more television stations in one market, and removed a rule that prevented a company from owning a newspaper and broadcast outlet in the same market.
Many in the broad-based resistance to deregulation see the change in rules as a potentially dangerous extension of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. They complained that the journalists were slow to take up the story because of risks to their corporate owners.
Pariser described the swelling media interest in the days before the vote as "too little, too late."
Still, said Mary Boyle, press secretary for Common Cause, the attention, however belated, could help the opposition in its next phase.
"By no means is this over," she said. "Americans have woken up to this issue. We're hoping to bring everyone to the table and channel that enthusiasm and energy."
She said Common Cause was planning to host a meeting of its ideologically diverse array of allies - ranging from the National Rifle Association to the National Organization for Women - to discuss future tactics.