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Originally published November 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 8, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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FCC should face reality

It's easy to get swept up in the hysteria surrounding media-ownership rules, easy to bash big media, and easy to blame the world's ills on the messenger.

Special to The Times

It's easy to get swept up in the hysteria surrounding media-ownership rules, easy to bash big media, and easy to blame the world's ills on the messenger.

Opponents of modernizing the ownership rules want the Federal Communications Commission to view the world with blinders, to ignore the myriad of changes brought on by new technologies, and to continue to believe that the media marketplace exists today as it did in the 1970s.

But here's the reality: There are nearly twice as many radio stations today as there were in 1970. Cable and satellite channels have increased the number of stations available on American television from an average of five in the 1970s to more than 500 today.

And, when the Internet is added to the equation, the number of available voices jumps to the nearly infinite. The simple fact is that Americans today have access to more independent voices than at any point in our history.

Despite what can only be described as a multimedia revolution over the past several decades, many of the FCC's rules that restrict local radio and television stations remain intact — including the archaic newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban — although Congress has specifically required the FCC to eliminate any media-ownership restrictions that are no longer necessary.

As far back as 1996, Congress realized that broadcasters must compete in a very different world, and that decades-old ownership restrictions threaten their continued ability to compete effectively.

For their part, broadcasters believe that great advances in technology offer consumers more sources for news and entertainment and that FCC rules should reflect this reality. Crippling an entire industry with archaic media-ownership rules — and hoping for progress — is not the proper solution.

On Friday, the FCC will be in Seattle to hold a public hearing on media-ownership rules. As broadcasters, we applaud the FCC's efforts to engage our local community on the challenges facing the media industry.

What the commissioners are likely to hear — just as they have heard in communities across the country — is that local broadcasters serve a unique and vital role in their communities.

People in Seattle turn to their local broadcasters for critical, up-to-the-minute news and emergency information they need and that, because they are local, broadcasters are uniquely positioned to provide. Local stations reflect the cultural richness of our city and state through a variety of locally produced content, covering Seattle's famously eclectic music scene, politics and other community-oriented issues.

TV and radio stations are more than just conduits of information. They are an active part of, and even help shape, the community. Their employees live and work in the community.

Every year, broadcasters partner with local interests to donate and raise millions of dollars for hundreds of hometown charity groups. We invest millions more dollars in state-of-the-art equipment to ensure that local communities have timely access to critical, life-saving information. And, we compete with each other to provide the absolute best-quality local reporting possible.

Clearly, localism is at the heart of everything we do.

Detractors say that the time is not right for reform, and regulators are rushing to judgment. This ignores reality as well. The FCC has spent the better part of the past decade studying the effect of media-ownership rules. And, the FCC's own research supports broadcasters' call for at least some modernized media-ownership rules. Waiting another decade could have immeasurable consequences for local communities and the broadcasters who serve them.

It is our hope that the FCC will recognize that its current rules do a grave disservice to our local communities and the diverse neighborhoods they serve.

So tomorrow, as you tap your foot to your favorite new song or change your route to work because of the latest traffic update, I hope you'll join me in inviting the FCC to join us in the new millennium.

Tell them the weather's fine. And, tell them you heard it on your local broadcast station here in Seattle.

Mark Allen is president and CEO of the Washington State Association of Broadcasters.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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