Protesters Bring Character(s) to FCC Hearing

Protesters turned up in costume for the Halloween hearing by the FCC on whether it should relax ownership rules to allow national media conglomerates to own more local stations.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

They're good beans, too. A hearing at the Federal Communications Commission on Halloween turned into an occasion for a kind of performance artists. Protesters and even some of those testifying turned up in costume.

The hearing was the last of six on what's known as localism, the local ownership of media outlets before the FCC moves to review its rules on media consolidation.

NPR's Neda Ulaby reports that the issues galvanized activists across the political spectrum.

NEDA ULABY: Outside the FCC headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C., a dog wore a cape that said Big Media Bites. A hundred or so activists of the two-legged variety rallied before the hearing even though the FCC gave only a week's notice to the public.

Delegate ELEANOR NORTON HOLMES (Democrat, Washington, D.C. At-Large): Thank you for coming to the FCC hearing that the FCC does not want you to attend.

ULABY: Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district's chateau representative, said she's angered by the state of television and radio since ownership rules changed in 1996 and furious about rumors that they may be relaxed even more.

Inside the commission hearing room, dozens of women wore the signature shade of the anti-war group Code Pink. Samantha Miller wore a skimpy black French maid outfit. She addressed the commissioners during the public comments.

Ms. SAMANTHA MILLER (Organizer, Code Pink): I'm dressed today as a corporate media whore because I feel that our airwaves have been sold to the highest bidder. When the media is consolidated into a few profit-driven hands, it is at the cost of our democracy.

ULABY: The provocation continued with four cheerleaders in blue-and-silver costumes with the letters FCC emblazoned on their chest.

Unidentified Woman: The guys out there seemed to be confused like we're here to disrupt something…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MILLER: …or distract from this process. We are totally for media consolidation.

ULABY: The cheerleaders were actually from a group that successfully challenged FCC when it tried to change ownership rules four years ago. They performed a routine ending with a human pyramid.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) One million, two million, three million dollars, All for Clear Channel stand up and holler. M-O-N-O-P-O-L-Y, monopoly, monopoly gets us high.

(Soundbite of cheering)

ULABY: The only voice at the hearing really in favor of relaxing ownership rules came from the National Association of Broadcasters, which showed a video praising an ABC affiliate's response to the Southern California wildfires.

(Soundbite of ABC News Report)

Unidentified Woman: On Sunday, when the winds began to blow and the fires broke out, we jump into action, cancelling regular programming and commercials, marshalling the full resource of the "Eye Witness News"…

ULABY: Still, the watchdog group Free Press testified with research showing that local news suffers when TV stations and newspapers in the same market are owned by one big company.

Mr. JONATHAN ADELSTEIN (Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission): That is a real bombshell.

ULABY: Jonathan Adelstein is one of two FCC commissioners adamantly against consolidation.

Mr. ADELSTEIN: Newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership actually undercuts locals and undercuts coverage of local affairs, and that's a real concern before we move forward.

ULABY: His concern was shared by the Reverend Dr. James Coleman of D.C.'s Missionary Baptist Ministers' Conference. Coleman was not wearing a costume when he addressed the commissioners.

Reverend Dr. JAMES COLEMAN (President, Missionary Baptist Ministers' Conference): God has supplied the airwaves as a gift to all human kind. He requires of us to be good stewards over the airwaves and ensure that media reflect, in a balanced fashion, the views, opinion and ethnic values of all segments of society.

ULABY: Coleman said society has become dependent on big media owners more interested in sensational national entertainment than serious reporting on issues important to local communities.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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