BY C.C. SONG
Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 21, 2005
The Federal Communications Commission is currently working with the lowest racial diversity in broadcasting history, FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said on Friday, advocating stricter regulations on who owns broadcasting companies as a way to promote diversity.
More like this
The lack of diversity in media ownership has worsened since the Telecommunications Act was passed in 1996, eliminating many restrictions on the number of media outlets one company can own. Over the past nine years, many racial minority-owned stations have been bought out by larger companies, according to proponents of tighter regulations.
Lawyers, economists and political scientists clashed on the Federal Communications Commission’s role in regulating media ownership at a symposium in Hutchins Hall on Saturday.
Proponents of more regulation argued the concentration of media outlets into huge conglomerates is restricting the variety of viewpoints available to consumers.
“The problem with only six corporations dominating the media is that all of them can fit into a Lexus and discuss how they can control the media,” said Michael Good, professor of Political Science at California State University at East Bay.
AOL Time Warner, The Walt Disney Company, News Corporation, Vivendi Universal, Viacom and Bertelsmann are the six corporations controlling the vast majority of media outlets, said Eric Alterman, the keynote speaker and author of “The Nation & MSNBC.com.”
Communication Studies Prof. Susan Douglas said the homogenous makeup of media outlet owners can be seen when looking at the small number of women and minorities who own companies.
“The representation of women and minorities as media owners is completely out of line with the actual numbers of women and minorities in the population,” Douglas said. “Today, women and people of color own less than 5 percent of media outlets. Only one television network, Oxygen, is owned and operated by women,” she said.
Adelstein has been traveling around the country to obtain suggestions from the public, aiming to improve the role of the FCC in increasing diversity in media ownership.
Further deregulation is widely supported by companies that want to expand, Adelstein said, but it encounters strong opposition from diverse quarters, including advocacy groups from either side of the political spectrum.
Adelstein said he was concerned about a monopoly in media ownership.
“Less regulation will lead to less diversity, leaving it to major corporations. We need to prevent the concentration,” he said.
But Michael Baumann, senior vice president of Economists Incorporated, said the FCC should seek diversity in viewpoints, not ownership. Baumann said diverse perspectives should be created by the ideals of the journalists, not through FCC regulations.
“Idealism serves the interest of the communities and generates larger diversity,” he said.
Communications Studies Prof. W. Russel Neuman also questioned the FCC’s definition of diversity.
“The critical weakness to antitrust is how you measure diversity,” he said. “A true diversity of media voices is an important principle to protect. But I’m not a strong supporter of FCC ownership rules and content regulation. Supporting diversity through new media voices on the web and multi-channel satellite broadcasting is a better bet.”
Neuman suggested that focusing on new media outlets would increase diversity more than regulating media ownership would.
“The evolution of high-quality video over the Web will enable literally millions of voices for every country on the globe at the click of a mouse. Even 100-channel cable can’t compete with that,” he said.
Martin Redish, professor of Law and Public Policy at Northwestern University, saw a conflict between Adelstein’s efforts and the First Amendment.
“What we should not do is to recognize government’s ability to control ownership,” he said.
“It is safe to say that the First Amendment is the cornerstone of any modern theory of media regulation. The values of free and open debate, as well as of an informed public, are vital to the functioning of a democratic society. Moreover, the media performs an essential watchdog function, checking governmental excess and mistakes. Therefore all governmental regulation of the media must first be filtered through the lens of free expression,” Redish said.
The Journal of Law Reform at the Law School sponsored the symposium to promote discussion among academics, journalists and regulators about how to increase diversity in the media.