- October 21 - Today, ten companies control the huge majority of media, from radio to television, from book publishing to magazine publishing, from cable television to internet access, from making movies to selling music cds. There are many important issues that Congress faces but few are more important than the growing concentration of media ownership in this country. This issue gets to the heart and soul of whether the United States remains a vibrant democracy in which people are able to hear and see diverse points of view, or whether a handful of large media conglomerates control the flow of information.
On June 2nd of this year, Chairman Michael Powell and his Republican colleagues at the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to make a bad situation worse. This ruling was a dramatic give-away of wealth and power to huge media conglomerates at the direct expense of the public interest. The new rules would allow one company to own 3 TV stations, the daily newspaper, 8 radio stations and the cable system (not to mention Internet sites affiliated with all of these) in our largest cities. In my own city of Burlington, Vermont one company could own the newspaper, the top TV station, 7 radio stations, and the cable system.
There is simply no defense for allowing fewer and fewer massive corporations to control more and more of our media channels. If the FCC decision stands, we can expect lower standards, less attention to local interests and talent, and a general decline in the variety of public voices we hear, see, and read. That decision is a major threat to the richness of our culture and the strength of our democracy.
Fortunately, in a tri-partisan way, the United States Senate has stood up and been counted in defense of American democracy. On September 16, 2003, the Senate passed by the wide bipartisan margin of 55-40 a Congressional Review Act "resolution of disapproval," which would nullify the the recent FCC changes to the media ownership rules that permit increased concentration in broadcasting and lift the ban on cross-ownership of newspapers and TV stations in most communities. It is also worth noting that the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against the FCC, granting a stay on the implementation of the new rules pending judicial review.
I am announcing today that a letter addressed to Speaker Dennis Hastert, which was authored in a tri-partisan way by Mr. Leach of Iowa, Mr. Hinchey of New York, Mr. Burton of Indiana, Mr. Price of North Carolina, and Mr. Markey of Massachusetts now has 189 co-signers. The Senate "resolution of disapproval" is now on the Speakers desk and this letter simply requests that he allow the House the opportunity to debate this enormously important issue and to vote up or down the same "resolution of disapproval" that the Senate voted on September 16th. Frankly, I don't know which side will win that vote but I do know that the American people need to hear that debate and that the American people have a right to know how their member of Congress stands on this issue. This matter is simply too important to be swept under the rug.
In an unprecedented way, the American people are becoming involved in this issue. In my own state of Vermont I have held five Congressional Town meeting on media consolidation which drew over 1500 Vermonters. In the last six months around 3 million Americans have contacted Congress and the FCC to protest against these rules. Groups with very different political ideologies, including the National Rifle Association, the National Organization for Women, the National Council of Churches, Consumers Union, the Parents Television Council and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights have joined together in a unique and powerful coalition of dissent.
The Speaker of the House must allow the American people a vote on this issue.