FCC holds public forum in St. Paul to discuss the media

by Kari Petrie

Media consolidation is hurting local broadcast and radio stations because they are not working for the public interest, a Federal Communications Commission member said Thursday.

“We need to make sure we hear more voices that are not from one ventriloquist,” Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said.

With media ownership rules up for review at the FCC, Adelstein said, it’s important the organization listen to the public’s opinions.

Adelstein and Jordan Goldstein, senior legal adviser to Commissioner Michael Copps, came Thursday to Hamline University in St. Paul to discuss media ownership. Copps was scheduled to attend but could not because of a back injury.

The FCC is an independent government agency of five commissioners appointed by the president. The Senate approves the commissioners, who serve five-year terms. The FCC regulates radio, television, wire, satellite and cable communications.

Adelstein and Copps have visited more than 20 cities across the country to hear people’s opinions on what they want from the media, Adelstein said.

Thursday’s forum featured two panels that covered local news and media diversity. The commissioners also heard testimonies from audience members.

Consumers can already see the damage caused by consolidation in the media, Adelstein said. Currently, 0.5 percent of programming is for the public’s interest, while 40 percent are infomercials.

“I fear we’re getting tighter abs but a flabby democracy,” he said.

But University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor Ken Goldstein said there is too little data on the effects of consolidation to say if it hurts or helps news.

There are more variables to seeing how media ownership affects news coverage than the number of independent stations, he said.

“It’s not only quantity; it’s also quality,” Goldstein said.

Rob Hubbard, president of Hubbard Television Group, which owns KSTP, said his stations provide public interest programming. One example is “At Issue,” a show that focuses on public affairs.

The show provides a public service, he said.

“But it’s costly to do that show,” Hubbard said.

Lorena Duarte, editor of La Prensa de Minnesota, said diversity is lacking in mainstream media.

“Having brown faces on the front page does not mean the opinions of minority culture are present,” she said.

Former FCC Commissioner and University of Iowa law professor Nicholas Johnson said the only people with First Amendment rights are media owners because they decide what voices are heard.

“Want the right to speak?” he said. “Buy a station.”

Johnson said it is important to have public forums about the dangers of media consolidation.

“If we are unwilling to discuss these issues today, we may find ourselves discussing none in the future,” he said.