NEW YORK—The Public Relations Society of America is urging members of the U.S. Senate to give speedy approval to a joint congressional resolution designed to overturn a decision by the Federal Communications Commission that critics say encourages monopoly ownership of national broadcast media and local media markets.
The rule, adopted in June by the FCC on a 3-2 vote, allows one company to own broadcast stations reaching up to 45 percent of the national market and also allows combinations of newspapers and broadcast outlets in the same area. Although the FCC vote split along party lines, opposition to the new ownership rule has been bipartisan, and in July the Republican-dominated House surprisingly passed a spending bill restoring broadcast ownership to a maximum national market penetration of 35 percent.
“The new rules threaten the diversity and local ownership of broadcast media throughout the nation,” said Steven Seekins, APR, Fellow PRSA, chair of the Society’s Advocacy Advisory Board. “The changes promote further concentration of media ownership under large, fast-growing corporate structures reducing channels of communication. In addition, they pose a risk for the eventual disappearance of local ownership and local media voices.”
PRSA advocates diversity in media ownership and believes it to be a vital component of expression in a free society. The organization’s Code of Ethics has a core principle that encourages “protecting and advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information...” that is “essential to protecting the public interest.”
The FCC initiated its review of the ownership rule in September of 2002, as part of a mandate by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. However, FCC chairman Michael Powell called for the vote on the rule after scheduling only one public hearing for citizens and civic groups to respond directly to the six major proposed changes in broadcast media ownership regulations. Two members of the five-member commission and at least three members of the U.S. Senate asked Powell to postpone the vote to allow for more public input, but he refused.
Major media companies say changes to the rules are needed because the old regulations hindered their ability to grow and compete in a market altered by cable television, satellite broadcasting and the Internet. But many critics are concerned that increasing concentration of ownership means increasingly homogenous content and reduced local news.
“We at PRSA believe that having increasingly vast media conglomerates results in moving information generically, with less attention to opposing viewpoints, minority interests and local stories,” Seekins said. “In the local media marketplace, we are already experiencing canned content, ‘robot radio,’ control of local venues for public entertainment and news events and growing lack of geographic focus in news reporting.”
PRSA’s statement came the just a day after Powell said his agency would examine the effects of concentration in media ownership this fall.