Rep. Edward Markey, chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, tells the National Conference for Media Reform in Memphis that “there is much work to do to enhance localism and diversity in media and ownership.”
Saturday, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, delivered the keynote address at the National Conference for Media Reform in Memphis.
Below are Markey’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
I’d like to thank Free Press—Ben Scott, Frannie Wellings, Robert McChesney—for the honor of speaking with you this evening.
And I want to thank everyone here for their interest and activism and commitment to diversity, localism, and the public interest in our nation’s communications policy.
This a truly wonderful event, and on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, it is poignant to reflect on the importance of media in our lives, in our democracy and on civil rights.
This weekend it is fitting to assess where we are on civil rights in the media. Issues of concern to the minority community are often not adequately covered, or covered at all. Depictions of African-Americans, Latinos, and women in our media often are under-represented and often when such characters appear they are sadly stereotypical. From a public policy standpoint, since Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968 we have not made much progress in minority media ownership. For instance, while minorities may represent over 30 percent of our nation’s population ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬” and are expected to be the majority in our society by 2025 ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬” a study from Free Press released just last year indicated that minorities own only 3.26 percent of all broadcast television licenses and African-Americans own just 1.3%. That is woefully deficient and we need to explore remedies to ensure that the distribution of licenses to use the public’s airwaves more adequately reflects American society today.
It is often said that our system of democratic self-government relies on an informed citizenry. Informed citizens need to know enough to make decisions in a democracy. And they need to know more that just raw information, but also context, as well as the history of issues. America’s Founders knew this, and in my home state of Massachusetts, it was even written in 1780 into our state constitution, saying that: “Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties.”
Media ownership is a key tool utilized in this policy context. And that’s because diversity of ownership has historically been used as a proxy for diversity of viewpoints and diversity of content. Simply put, therefore, elimination of ownership limits eradicates an important tool we have to help ensure that the public has access to a wide array of viewpoints in local news and information.
In 2003, we were challenged. We were challenged by the drastic and indiscriminate elimination of mass media ownership rules proposed by the previous FCC under its former Chairman.
In response to pressure from special political and corporate interests, the previous FCC Chairman rammed through the FCC, on a 3 to 2 vote, changes to media ownership that would have eviscerated the public interest principles of diversity and localism. The FCC’s plan did not create more entertainment and information sources for consumers. Nor did it enhance the ability of the broadcasting medium to meet the informational and civic needs of the communities it serves.
Instead, it threatened to intensify control of information and opinion in entire cities and regions of the country. The aggregate effect would have encouraged the rapid consolidation of mass media ownership in this country and the elimination of diverse sources of opinion and expression. Such overwhelming concentration of media power is a powerful toxin to democracy and the death knell for community control of its own media.
I said at the time that the FCC plan would make Citizen Kane look like an underachiever.
The good news is that the challenge was answered. People took notice, took action, and went to court. Congress also responded and enacted some limits and the court shut down the rest of the sweeping changes and sent the plan back to the FCC. In short, it showed that citizens could make a difference.
But it was only a temporary reprieve.
Today, the FCC is embarked upon another round of analysis and is re-examining whether to change the media ownership rules. To his credit, current FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has released publicly the media studies and analysis performed previously by FCC staff that were repressed. Also to his credit, Chairman Martin has agreed to a series of public meetings around the country on the issue of media ownership.
Spearheading the sound exposition of the role and reality of media at the FCC in the current proceeding are the two Commissioners who wisely voted against the previous one ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬” the dynamic duo of FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein. Please join me in giving a round of applause for these two gentlemen who have battled for the public interest in media policy.
There is much work to do to enhance localism and diversity in media and ownership. Yet one of the traps we should avoid is thinking that these issues are partisan. The limits on mass media ownership that this bill would sweep away were not created solely by liberals. Rather, both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, have insisted on such rules and developed them in bipartisan fashion over a number of decades. In fact, many of the rules under review were originally adopted by the FCC during the Nixon and Ford Administrations.
Both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, have a stake in media diversity. So, we should not paint this as a partisan picture. Neither is the debate over Internet freedom and the issue of so-called “network neutrality”. The coalition that supported my network neutrality fight last year in the Congress included Free Press, the ACLU, and Moveon.org ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬” but also the Gun Owners of America, the National Religious Broadcasters, and the Christian Coalition.
In national telecommunications policy, our guide stars for decades have been three core principles: universal service, localism, and diversity. In recent years we have had to update them to encompass two new factors that have buffeted our laws and regulations: the rise of digital technology and fierce global competition. The task has been to preserve and enhance these values even as technology evolves.
The communications revolution has the potential to change our society. Unless we continue to revere localism and diversity we risk encouraging a new round of “communications cannibalism” in mass media properties on both the national and local levels that would put real progress in bolstering minority ownership of media even further away.
On the other hand, if we do it right, and remain true to the course set by these guide stars, the telecommunications revolution has the power to bring rich, new educational and entertainment opportunities to our homes, classrooms, and offices.I believe we can do it right and will continue to fight to make national telecommunications policy reflect our highest aspirations as a society. I ask for your support and involvement in this process and thank you very much for inviting me to come here this evening.