Commentary

Why would FCC Chairman Powell skip his own hearing?

'Localism' forum may have started as a sham, but the people's voice was heard

By John McManus
Posted July 30, 2004
Listen to this commentary on KQED-FM "Perspectives" (aired 7/30/04)

Stung by Senate and court rejections of his plan to allow corporations to expand ownership of mass media, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell scheduled six public forums around the country to listen to vox populi.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Internet-savvy vox populists like Moveon.org rallied ordinary people to attend.

At a hearing in San Antonio Mr. Powell heard from those who really own the airwaves -- the public -- for seven angry hours. Before it could happen again in South Dakota, he ducked out of his own meeting. In Monterey last week, he was AWOL again.

Some folks get fired for missing work, but I think his absence makes perfect sense.

Why bother listening when you've already decided? In his letter inviting the public to the hearings, Chairman Powell concludes: "Over the last several years, the Commission's review of the media marketplace has clearly demonstrated that the broadcast community, at large, has made great strides in serving the needs of their local communities.

"I urge broadcasters to fully inform the Commission of the laudable steps they take in serving the interests of their local communities. ..."

Sound like an open mind to you?

Chairman Powell may have intended the hearings as a sham, but two other FCC commissioners are fanning public outrage over a broadcast media they believe serves their shareholders at the expense of us -- the air-holders.

The FCC is now revising broadcast rules. If you join the effort, we have our best chance ever to limit the media monopoly. (Two ways to weigh in: See Free Press' Web site and the FCC's comment page.)

We cannot afford to let a few executives control a business with the power to define reality, even were they wise as Gandhi. And Rupert Murdock, Michael Eisner and Sumner Redstone ain't mahatmas.