It should come as no surprise that the decision of the Federal Communications Commission to rewrite media ownership rules has stirred a firecry in Congress.
Unlike the members of the FCC, members of the House and Senate must face the voters at election time. And, while Americans may disagree about many issues, they are united on one point: Communications conglomerates should not be allowed to extend their already excessive control of the public discourse at the local or national level.
The FCC knew this because more than 750,000 Americans told them so. According to dissident Commissioner Michael Copps, who opposed rewriting the rules to favor the interests of big media corporations, citizen input to the FCC ran 99.9 percent against the proposed rule changes. And this was after FCC Chairman Michael Powell explicitly asked Americans to e-mail and write the FCC to tell him what they thought about relaxing the media ownership rules.
Yet FCC Powell and his two Republican allies went ahead and did the bidding of the media giants -- after accepting dozens of junkets paid for by the key players in industries they are supposed to regulate.
Now members of Congress are working on a number of fronts to reverse the damage done June 2 when the FCC voted to allow a single company to buy up television stations that reach up to 45 percent of American viewers, to own two (or, in some cases, even three) television stations in the same town, and to own newspapers as well as radio and television stations in the same community.
Senators who opposed the ownership rule changes -- ranging from progressives like Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold to moderates like Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and conservatives like Colorado Republican Wayne Allard and Mississippi Republican Trent Lott -- are talking about forcing a vote to overturn the new rules, restricting appropriations that the FCC needs to implement the rules, or simply writing laws that would supercede the rules. And they are winning new allies daily.
Even Arizona Republican John McCain, who is usually a champion of loosening restrictions on media ownership, says, "I have gone from [being] a deregulator to someone who is very concerned about the level of media concentration."
Today, June 19, marks the next big day in the fight for media reform, when the McCain-chaired Senate Commerce Committee will decide whether to support a motion to rescind the FCC rule changes.
The congressional interest -- and potential intervention -- is great news. But Americans should not be lulled into complacency by a sense that Congress will simply do the right thing when it comes to defending competition, diversity and local control of media. Only by keeping up the pressure on Congress will citizens force their representatives to block these rule changes and to begin the process of restoring the rules and regulations that will protect the public interest that the FCC chose to ignore.
To learn all about the fight to rescind the rule changes and to get a comprehensive overview of the burgeoning media reform movement, go to MediaReform.net.
But don't stop there. Take two minutes to make the difference between victory and defeat. Go to the online petition and tell your friends to do the same. This "viral" petition campaign will create a massive wave of petitions to Commerce committee members in both chambers. The legislation (S.1046) would roll back the broadcast ownership cap limit, and a crucial amendment is planned that would reverse the rule allowing cross-ownership of newspapers, radio and TV stations.
John Nichols is The Nation's Washington correspondent and is currently the editor of the editorial page of Madison, Wisconsin's Capital Times. Robert W. McChesney is the author of Rich Media, Poor Democracy (New Press) and, with John Nichols, of It's the Media, Stupid (Seven Stories).
Here's what to do:
1. Go to the petition campaign.
2. Personalize the message to your congressional delegation.
3. Enter e-mail addresses of friends and colleagues in your state.
4. Send your message. It will be printed out and walked to your members of Congress, and this message will be forwarded to your contacts. Your friends will not receive spam as a result of this petition.
Also go to the Web site of Common Cause, which has been a champion in this struggle. Don't have World Wide Web access? Forward this e-mail to your friends and colleagues in your state.
It's that simple.