On April 30, 2007, Brandy Doyle was a freelance journalist in Tampa that was encouraged to give testimony at a series of federal hearings about media ownership and consolidation.
Standing in line for hours with hundreds of others at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center — hoping to give testimony to the Federal Communications Commission — among the many things on her mind, Doyle was wondering whether or not she was going to be fired for what she had to say.
“I was speaking out against my newsroom,” she says. The way news happens, she says, is that in-depth coverage doesn’t fit with the business model. She was never given the chance to cover communities the way she felt that deserved to be covered. “I’d never been asked to write a second draft,” she says.
Though she made headlines, she wasn’t fired. But it was, unbeknownst to her, the first day on the job for Prometheus Radio, a West Philadelphia-based nonprofit advocacy group that speaks out against media monopoly in large markets like Philadelphia and actively helps small organizations and individuals set up low-power radio stations across the country. Be sure to see our coverage of Prometheus and one local low-power station here, for more details.
Last week, the organization scored a second major recent victory in its battle.
Philadelphia’s U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decided in favor of the group in its Prometheus vs. FCC suit, deciding that the regulator’s rules that allow one company to own a newspaper and a broadcast property in the same market need to be rewritten. “The court decided that the FCC failed to give the public adequate participation in shaping the rules,” Doyle says. “You have the right to a diverse media.”
Though there’s no companies in Philadelphia that have both a print and broadcast property — though, there are related concerns from some about Comcast’s new role as content provider and service provider — thus was the case in Tampa, where Doyle was introduced to Prometheus.
But the decision hit home for her on both personal and professional levels, now that she represents Prometheus as Policy Director, one of eight full-time employees.
The FCC has taken steps to deregulate broadcast companies since the early 80s. That’s the trend in all of our industries toward deregulation and less protections for regular people. Under previous leadership, republican [FCC Chairman] Michael Powell tried to further deregulate media ownership by removing the ban on cross-ownership, which would allow one group to own a newspaper and a broadcast channel in one market.
Does this cross-ownership situation potentially exist in Philadelphia?
Comcast is the example for Philadelphia. Having just acquired NBC, it’s different. It’s not newspaper or broadcast, but it’s going from cable to broadcast. There’s no rule against that kind of press ownership anymore. It’s both a content provider and an Internet service provider. It’s very relevant to Philadelphia. It’s about how many choices people have. In general, where we’ve gotten today is with fewer and fewer choices.
And what about other media organizations that are moving to online video and production in addition to their print products?
They call it convergence, not consolidation. But the facts are that when they merge, they fire reporters and they have reporters following news in both places and the news suffers. It’s important that we’re not just hearing one perspective.
— Brandy Doyle
What’s the next step in the legal process?
The FCC is required by law to do a review of its ownership rules every 4 years. Its 2010 review is still in process, after awaiting this decision. Now its heard from the court, and from that review, they can suggest changes. We’ll see what kind of changes they come up with a democratic chairman [Julius Genachowski]. This decision is about commercial media and holding the line against greater consolidation. It doesn’t create a better media system, but it stems the tide.
Tell us about the Local Community Radio Act signed this year—
We won in January when the Local Community Radio Act, a bipartisan law, was passed. Now the FCC has a mandate to expand community radio and make sure that theres channels available. Most of these issues are around whose voices can be heard. What are our public airwaves for? Does it make sense to give more access to the same companies, or give more people the tools? Net Neutrality is the same issue. It’s about who has the right to communicate. In all of these issues, there’s a greater push for greater consolidation by a smaller number of companies. We’re working to create space for all of us.
Where do these victories put Prometheus? Have victories like this increased interest or given you funding opportunities?
We’ll see opportunities for new community radio stations around the region [and country]. In Philly, we have more battles to win. The biggest issue is that the FCC has a backlog of 6,500 translator service applications [translators are essentially signal transmitters that allow radio stations to broadcast their service farther]. There’s no room for community radio. People can contact Prometheus for help to write a letter to officials explaining why Philly needs community radio.-30-
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