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It’s unanimous: Tampa opposes cross-ownership
April 20, 2010
Tampa, FL-- A little-publicized FCC workshop on Tuesday drew a large crowd that spoke loudly and unanimously against cross-ownership, with audience members lining up to speak for more than two hours of lively public comment.
The workshop signals that the FCC may try to lift its longtime ban on cross-ownership, which prevents a single company from owning the major newspaper and a broadcast station in the same market. Because Media General owns both the Tampa Tribune and WFLA in an arrangement that predates the 1975 ban, the FCC came to Tampa to evaluate the impact of existing cross-ownership in this area.
Bernie Lunzer of the Newspaper Guild said the FCC should encourage experimentation and consider new ways to support news, but that “diversity of delivery does not create diversity of content.”
“But if all the FCC does is lift the cross-ownership ban entirely, it will have done nothing to preserve or promote quality information. In fact, it will speed up the demise of journalism while preserving a cash flow for some,” said Lunzer, whose organization represents more than 28,000 media workers, including 15,000 journalists.
The most powerful testimonies came from Tampa residents, however, including Rob Lorei, the News and Public Affairs Director for WMNF Community Radio and a journalist in the area for more than 30 years.
To prepare his comments, Lorei spoke with some of the hundreds of laid off Tampa Tribune reporters and staff, people he called “victims not only of the recession but what Tribune employees tell me is the relentless demand by Media General headquarters in Richmond to return a 20-25% profit.”
Although Media General’s John Schueler denied this, he refused to estimate Media General’s profit returns.
“The convergence model here in Tampa is not a model on which you’ll see more original or investigative reporting,” said Lorei. “It’s a model where the owners of the operations will be able to extract more value, downsize staff, and keep up the appearance of being the community’s watchdog.”
Arlene Sweeting, general manager of low power station WSLR in Sarasota, asked the panelists what their media outlets had done to publicize the FCC workshop. No daily print newspapers or television stations had announced the event, and most of those in attendance learned about it through the outreach efforts of the Prometheus Radio Project and on community radio.
“Low power stations, community radio stations, and other non-profit media outlets do provide critical information to local communities, but it’s not enough,” said Sweeting. “We need ownership rules that ensure diversity in the big media outlets as well.”
Oscar Otzoy of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers described the role of low power station Radio Conciencia in uncovering and prosecuting modern day slavery in Florida’s fields, and argued that communities need more voices in the media, not fewer.
“As an organization and as a low power radio station, we are opposed to media consolidation,” said Otzoy. “We believe that by diversifying media and making it available to more people rather than consolidating it, we would be able to include more voices and to gather more perspectives on different issues.”
Ron Jenkins of Fort Myers said the media in his area does not address the needs of the black community, and that increased consolidation will worsen the problem.
“We don’t have an ability to speak to one another. The local radio stations are more concerned with profits than they are with the community at large...What I am asking from the FCC is that you step in. You come in, and you say, no, we’re going to regulate this, we’re going to make sure the communities will be represented.”
The workshop was part of the FCC’s 2010 review of its media ownership rules, which will likely see a new attempt at deregulating media cross-ownership. The FCC’s past attempts to dismantle ownership protections were stopped by the landmark Prometheus v. FCC as well as the thousands who spoke out against consolidation nationwide. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently lifted the stay on the FCC that resulted from that case, freeing the agency to modify its rules this year.
Prometheus Radio Project
The Prometheus Radio Project builds participatory radio as a tool for social justice organizing and a voice for community expression. To that end, we demystify media policy and technology, advocate for a more just media system, and help grassroots organizations build communications infrastructure to strengthen their communities and movements.