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Originally published November 30, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 11, 2007 at 12:39 PM

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The Democracy Papers

A kick in the eye from the FCC

A kick in the eye. That is what a proposed change to media-ownership rules feels like. Contrary to statements from Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin that couch the proposal as a compromise, it is bad policy that helps only media conglomerates.

The Democracy Papers is a series of articles, essays and editorial opinion examining threats to our freedoms of speech. Technology has created space for more voices, yet fewer and fewer are heard.

The American press and media are being decimated by consolidation. This transformation from many owners into five or six large corporations and the lessening of small outlets for radio, newspapers, magazines and music are chilling a once robust marketplace of ideas. What should Americans do? This series explores the arguments and the backlash.

Democracy Papers online archive:
www.seattletimes/thedemocracypapers

Daily Democracy, the Democracy Papers blog: blog.seattletimes.nwsource.com/dailydemocracy.

A kick in the eye. That is what a proposed change to media-ownership rules feels like.

Contrary to statements from Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin that couch the proposal as a compromise, it is bad policy that helps only media conglomerates. The only compromise will be from corporations figuring out how to add more news outlets in an attempt to meet the bottom-line journalism demanded by Wall Street.

Media reformers, consumer groups and parts of the press oppose the plan because it allows for cross-ownership of a newspaper and broadcast station in the nation's 20 largest media markets. The plan is made more dangerous because the commission could grant waivers outside the proposed criteria.

The Newspaper Association of America, which has been advocating cross-ownership for years, is displeased because Martin did not go far enough.

The public's interest was obviously not considered. Had it been, Martin would have taken time to digest the six media-ownership hearings, which wrapped up in Seattle — four days before Martin announced his plan with an op-ed in The New York Times.

That leaves the politicians. Martin seems to be trying to position his plan as a compromise for Congress. Expect Martin to favorably compare his rule changes to what the FCC passed in 2003, which were swatted aside by a federal appellate court.

Martin knows how Washington, D.C., works. He has offered up the cable industry to soften Congress on cross-ownership. He wants to force cable companies to adopt such practices as a la carte programming, and limit the percentage of a market one company can reach.

Martin's cable stance is good public policy. Martin's cross-ownership plan is not good public policy. The two issues are not related. Congress is smart enough to see through this horse trade.

The cross-ownership rule changes will undermine independent journalism, blinding news outlets in all markets. Congress must protect the public and America's independent press if the FCC will not.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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