Unexpected anger: Why did Congress turn on broadcasters?

It all began this spring when the Democratic members of the FCC began holding renegade public hearings on media ownership in a dozen American cities. FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who disapproved of the hearings, failed to take seriously the grassroots politics of his colleagues, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein.

In speech after speech, however, the Democratic commissioners urged local leaders to make their voices heard about the concentration of media that would result if the Republican majority of the FCC got their way.

The result is that 750,000 people had their say—virtually all against allowing the networks to own more stations.

The fact that so many people expressed disapproval of what was thought to be uninteresting government regulatory policy, attracted the attention of members of Congress. A sleeper issue was born. Concern over the growth of media conglomerates transcended traditional party lines in part because of the personal experiences of many office holders.

Lawmakers were fearful that they could suffer self-inflicted political problems if there are too few media outlets in their home districts. Allowing a greater concentration of media ownership could make it more difficult for them to convey their messages to their own constituents.

Diverse opponents of the FCC’s action worried that further consolidation among media companies would lead to more-homogenized programming and make it harder for unpopular viewpoints to be heard. Some worried that stations would lose their local identities, as they became part of huge media companies. Opposition built fast.

Traditional allies of the administration, most notably a coalition of religious and conservative groups, joined liberal organizations in attacking the new rules. The coalition quickly expanded from the likes of the National Rifle Association, the Christian Coalition, Parents Television Council, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to the National Association of Women, Consumers Union, the Writers Guild of America and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

For more information visit www.fcc.gov.

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