Forum opens discussion on FCC ownership rules

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(Host) A member of the Federal Communications Commission says changes in media ownership rules could have disastrous affects. Michael Copps was in Vermont Monday night to discuss the proposed changes. Copps took part in a public forum held by Saint Michael’s College and Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Forty-eight days from now, Copps says the Federal Communications Commission could make a decision that will dramatically change the face of mass media in this country.

(Copps) “There is the potential here, on June 2, to remake our entire communications landscape, for better or for worse for many years to come, and the stakes are just enormous. There’s no other way to say it.”

(Zind) Copps is at odds with FCC Chairman Michael Powell. Powell favors changes that would enable a single corporation to control radio, television and newspapers in a community. Another change would allow major networks to merge and control over thirty five percent of the national television market. Powell says with the explosion of cable, and satellite and the internet, there’s been a proliferation of media outlets and the current ownership rules are outdated.

Sanders says the 1996 Telecommunications Act has led to a decline in the number of independent newspapers and radio and television stations. Sanders says any changes in ownership rules would continue the trend toward concentrating control of the media in the hands of a few large conglomerates. Sanders says these companies can set the nation’s political agenda by deciding which issues to cover and which opinions to represent.

(Sanders) “The fact that fewer and fewer large corporations own more and more of the media is an extremely dangerous trend. A vibrant democracy requires a full airing of all points of view and all perspectives. And increasingly that is not the case in this country.”

(Zind) Among the companies that came under fire was Clear Channel Corporation, which owns over 1,200 radio stations nationwide, including five in the Burlington area. Karen Marshall is vice president of Clear Channel in Vermont. She wasn’t an invited panelist, but she was in the audience. Marshall said Clear Channel isn’t a faceless corporate entity:

(Marshall) “I am corporate America. Problem is, I live in this community and I’ve been in this community for 19 years as a broadcaster. I have children in schools, I pay taxes. I do a lot of things as a corporate citizen.”

(Zind) Marshall said as large as it is, Clear Channel owns fewer than 10% of the country’s radio stations. She defended the company’s record as a community oriented business.

She agreed with Sanders and Copps that the question of who controls the media is an important one and that the pending decision on changing ownership rules needs to be more widely discussed.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester.

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