The People Speak Out at FCC Hearing in Seattle

Listen to Executive Editor Sarah van Gelder and Executive Director Fran Korten
4 minutes

FCC hearing Seattle
Audience at FCC hearing, Town Hall, Seattle - photo by Jonathan Lawson

Advocates of diverse media, local media accountability, and quality journalism are seeing Friday's (Nov 9. 2007) FCC media ownership hearing as a triumph. Over 1100 people attended the nine-hour marathon hearing, making it the largest of six such meetings designed to gather public opinion, as the FCC considers proposals to let big media companies buy up even more local TV and radio stations.

The five Commissioners attending the hearing stayed onstage at Seattle's Town Hall until 1am listening to passionate pleas to reject further media consolidation. A diverse range of northwesterners from five states stepped forth to testify -- despite the fact the hearing was announced just five business days in advance. Nearly everyone who spoke opposed deregulation, following a pattern established at previous hearings.

"The turnout in Seattle was phenomenal -- in sheer numbers, but also in the breadth and depth of testimony," said Jonathan Lawson, director of Reclaim the Media. "Despite the absurdly short notice, which kept many out-of-state, rural and working people from attending, the Commissioners heard hours of impassioned and articulate testimony from people across the Northwest, and from across the political spectrum. That more than 1100 people sacrificed their time to attend this fly-by-night hearing demands that they be heard all the way in Washington, D.C."

Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire (D) opened the hearing on a fiery note, chastising FCC Chairman Kevin Martin for not giving Northwest residents ample time to prepare for the hearing. Gregoire urged: "We need competition, not concentration. We need diversity, vitality and local perspectives. I ask you to ensure that our citizens have access to multiple sources of information and perspectives."

Alarm over media consolidation crossed party lines. "I have a number of concerns with the hearings process and the underlying policy proposals," said Republican State Attorney General Rob McKenna. County Councilmember Reagan Dunn added, "I'm a Republican and I'm a capitalist. But some areas of our private sector must be regulated."

Senator Maria Cantwell (D) and Representatives Jay Inslee (D) and Dave Reichert (R) sent recorded statements expressing concern over the impact of media concentration on local Northwest communities. On Thursday, Cantwell co-sponsored the "Media Ownership Act of 2007," a bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) that would put the brakes on Chairman Martin's plan to gut media ownership limits by the end of the year.

FCC McDowell, Copps, Martin and Adelstein
FCC McDowell, Copps, Martin and Adelstein - photo by Jonathan Lawson

Seattle Town Hall was close to capacity before the hearing had even started, with dozens lined up hours in advance for their chance to give two minutes of testimony. More than 280 people signed up to speak, and the assembled Commissioners opted to extend the hearing well past the announced end time of 11pm in order to accommodate all speakers.

"Here tonight, residents of the Pacific Northwest have the last word," concluded Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.

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