FCC’s On the Road Again

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The Federal Communications Commission convened here late last month, conducting a marathon open-mike session on the performance of local radio and TV stations.

With possible agency adoption of new broadcast-ownership rules serving as the backdrop for much of the commentary, dozens of audience members sounded off about the media in ways very familiar to the federal regulatory body. Some citizens rose to say that local radio and TV stations were vital to the community, helping to raise money to fight cancer and heart disease. Others complained about out-of-state ownership, corporate control of giant media outlets and recycled programming to cut costs.

“We, the people, own these airwaves. Do not encourage further ownership consolidation,” said Randy Visser, 48, of Gray, Maine, summarizing the feelings of many who waited hours for two minutes at the microphone.

Extolling local broadcasters, Daniel Paradee, Maine Turnpike Authority public-affairs manager, said the state didn’t have funds to keep drivers informed about delays associated with a five-year widening project on a 30-mile stretch of road that carries 70 million vehicles per year. Local radio stations came to the rescue, he added.

“Public communication about this project and its impact on traffic was absolutely critical to the safety of our customers and to the health of our state’s economy,” Paradee said.

Republicans Robert McDowell and Deborah Taylor Tate and Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein attended the June 28 meeting, while FCC chairman Kevin Martin remained in Washington, D.C., to deal with the health problems of his newborn son.

In 2003, the FCC, under then-chairman Michael Powell, relaxed broadcast-ownership rules, including the 1975 rule that banned the common ownership of a local newspaper and a TV or radio station in same local market. But one year later, a federal court rejected the changes as unjustified — a ruling cheered by those who thought the FCC had caved in to corporate interests.

“The FCC has failed to protect the interests of the American people,” Adelstein said during his opening remarks.

A few hundred people filled about three-quarters of the seats in the Portland High School auditorium, participating in the FCC’s first out-of-Washington session on area broadcasters’ efforts to fulfill their “localism” obligations. Ending just before midnight, the forum included expert commentary from panelists picked by the commission, followed by remarks from 100 audience members.

In closing, Adelstein seemed to suggest that the people who complained about Portland radio and TV stations had more credibility than those who spoke in support of local broadcasters.

“All of these stories about localism came from people who are in the broadcast industry or beneficiaries of their largess — all very noble undertakings that we heard from,” Adelstein said. “But I suspect that if it were as great as they made it out to be, we may have heard an equal outpouring from the actual viewers themselves and the listeners.”

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