WASHINGTON – House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) and members of the Democratic Caucus today asked Federal Communications Chairman Michael Powell to delay a decision on media ownership rules and expressed concern that the process will not allow for proper public comment and examination of the new rules. The following is Rep. Hoyer’s statement as prepared for delivery:
“Diversity. Localism. Competition. These three principles are as American as apple pie and they have been at the heart of American media for decades. But diversity, localism and competition would be undercut by the changes the FCC is now considering. These changes will allow huge media giants to gobble up more and more TV stations, radio stations and newspapers. If all of these changes are made, Americans could soon receive their news from only a few sources controlled by a handful of executives.
“The world certainly has changed since the current rules were put in place 25 years ago. But the brave new world of cable TV and the internet doesn’t automatically dictate a need for new rules. It simply means that we should carefully and openly review the current rules and look for appropriate changes. That careful and open review has not yet taken place. The famed New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzburger said "freedom of the press, or, to be more precise, the benefit of freedom of the press, belongs to everyone - to the citizen as well as the publisher... the crux is not the publisher's 'freedom to print'; it is, rather, the citizen's 'right to know.' " It is only through diversity, localism and competition that we protect the citizen’s right to know.
“So it is critically important that we are sure that any changes to ownership of the media will not jeopardize these three principles. But in fact, over the past few years, these principles are already being strained by increased consolidation in the media. The top 25 television owners now own more than 44 percent of all broadcast stations, up from 24.6 percent in 1995. The same thing is happening to newspapers. Out of 1500 daily newspapers in the U.S., only 281 remain independent. In radio the trend continues. In 1996, before Congress relaxed radio ownership limits, the two largest companies owned 115 radio stations. Today, these two companies own 1,451 radio stations.
“The changes being debated now are among the most important the FCC have ever undertaken, and the American public deserve an opportunity to review and comment on the proposed changes. That is why I am here today. That is why I have signed on to Representative Hinchey’s bill. That is why I have signed on to the letter to Chairman Powell. And that is why I call on the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Chairman Tauzin, to hold hearings on this very important matter.
“The media is the fourth estate – which means that in effect, the media is a fourth branch of government. And its independence is as essential to fostering a healthy democracy as the independence of the judicial, legislative and executive branches of our government. Americans depend on their government to respect and protect the independence of the media and maintain their access to a diversity of views and sources of information.
“It is not something that can be done by each person alone. There is no democracy without free speech and free speech is not possible without a free media. We must be vigilant in protecting a free and independent media and I urge the FCC to delay its decision and allow an open and deliberative process regarding a decision with such far reaching implications for our democracy.”