Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., continues to demonstrate strong leadership on the issue of curbing media consolidation.
As the Federal Communications Commission undergoes an important review of media ownership guidelines, Cantwell and her colleagues on the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee are getting to know Thomas Wheeler, President Barack Obama’s nominee to become the next chair of the FCC.
In his first initial meeting before the panel last week, Cantwell told Wheeler the newspaper industry’s efforts to purchase more broadcasting stations should be scrutinized, especially after Gannett’s announcement it plans to purchase broadcasting giant Belo’s 23 television stations — including KING 5 in Seattle. Five of those broadcasters are in other cities where Gannett already owns a newspaper. Current rules prohibit media companies from owning multiple properties in the same market.
“And while the purchase is subject to the approval of both the FCC and DOJ, I think Gannett is trying to basically use these ownership rules, use the whole shared service agreement, as a way to get around those rules. So I’m very concerned about that whole issue,” she said.
Wheeler responded, “Senator, I understand the seriousness of this issue. And I have long been an advocate of diversity of voices. On the specific issue that you just raised, I also note that the chairman has asked the [Government Accountability Office] to opine on this issue. And I think that’s appropriate and called for. And I look forward to their opining, their opinion. But I think you said the key thing: that when the commission looks at these issues – competition, localism and diversity – are the issues that should be the touchstones. Not business plans.”
Watch the full June 18 Q&A between the senator and Wheeler in the video below, courtesy of Cantwell’s YouTube channel:
I agree with Cantwell and many others who argue the loss of independent ownership means fewer voices and less diversity of ideas in our country. (Also, read this Dec.12,2012 Seattle Times editorial opposing cross-ownership.)
As for Wheeler, it appears we have no other choice but to wait and see how he plans to deal with consolidation. He indicated he would largely follow precedent. Really? Then we can probably expect more media mergers. The Seattle Times editorial board published this May 4 editorial expressing serious concerns about the former lobbyist and Obama fundraiser’s ability to protect the public interest, but Politico and Mashable report his candidacy is moving forward.
Cantwell and other senators should continue to press Thomas Wheeler for answers.