University of Iowa News Release
May 19, 2003
UI Law Professor Nicholas Johnson Criticizes Proposed FCC Rules Changes
A University of Iowa law professor and former member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) believes that rules changes now being considered by the FCC will only strengthen corporate control of the media and deprive people of alternative voices.
"The U.S. is already dangerously close to what we criticize under authoritarian regimes," said Nicholas Johnson, a UI law professor and a member of the FCC from 1966 to 1973. "This will just further limit the diversity of views, especially those that are unpopular or seen as critical of corporate-state control. For instance, the British media gave their audience a far greater range of news and views about the war in Iraq than we got."
Among the proposals the FCC is now considering is one to allow a single company to own TV stations that reach 45 percent of U.S. households instead of the current 35 percent. Another proposal would virtually eliminate rules that prevent a single owner from owning a newspaper and broadcast station in the same market, and from owning a radio and TV station in the same market. The FCC began consideration of the rules last week and is expected to vote on them in June.
Johnson said the new rules fly in the face of Congress' original intent when it created the FCC to regulate the public airwaves in the 1930s.
"Back then Congress was very concerned about media concentration. They saw it as the risk to democracy it is and severely limited ownership," Johnson said. "But as outrageous as the current FCC's proposal is, the problem is even worse because the FCC has also eliminated the public service responsibilities of broadcasters using the public's airwaves. It has eliminated the 'fairness doctrine' that provided a tiny bit of balance. And it permits the same companies that control the cable or other distribution systems to own the programming and exclude that of competitors. Meanwhile the Supreme Court says the only Americans with First Amendment rights are those who own the media."
Johnson pointed to the recent furor over anti-war comments made by the band The Dixie Chicks. After they made comments critical of President George W. Bush at a concert, the company that owns a large group of radio stations banned their songs and derided the band members, leading to threats against the band.
"They were simply voicing their opinion of the president, which is their protected right, and many radio stations responded with threats and intimidation," Johnson said. "It's easy to imagine more of that in the future against people who voice opinions that oppose the agendas of the campaign contributors who control the media."
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