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UCC Media Justice arm files petition with FCC to stop media consolidation

By W. Evan Golder


No matter where you live in the United States, a UCC OC Inc. petition filed at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday, July 24, will affect you.   The petition seeks to deny the right of Gannett Company, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, to expand its hold in five media markets by buying a TV company called Belo Corp.  If the merger is approved by the FCC, it will affect media markets, large and small, across the country.  The petition focused on five of the hardest hit markets.  Members of the UCC filed to demonstrate to the FCC how they would be harmed by the merger.


In Phoenix, the Rev. David W. Ragan watches Phoenix’s three television stations – KTVK, KPNX, and KASW – and subscribes to Phoenix’s only major daily newspaper, the Arizona Republic.  But he finds it “almost impossible” to get media coverage for events sponsored by groups fighting for equality in Arizona “when our cause is against the positions taken by the dominant perspectives of the press and the community it shapes.”


In Tucson, the Rev. Teresa Blythe regularly watches KTTU and KMSB and reads the Arizona Daily Star, the only daily newspaper providing news of her entire community. Gannett, which currently owns 23 television stations and 82 U.S. daily newspapers, including half-ownership of the Star, proposes to provide major services to KTTU and KMSB. “Without independent voices,” Blythe says, “there will be less investigative journalism, which allows corporate interests via press releases and highly ‘spinned’ news to dominate the news.”


In St. Louis, the Rev. David Beebe serves Good Shepherd United Church of Christ. Among the television stations he watches are KMOV and KSDK, both of which Gannett proposes to own. This potential common ownership “harms me,” he says, “by sharply reducing the number of independent voices and competitive news sources available to me.”


In five media markets, these three and Louisville, Ky., and Portland, Ore., Gannett proposes to purchase broadcast licenses, thus reducing the number of media outlets in these markets—and the number of sources of news and information.


But this media consolidation cannot occur in a vacuum. These deals must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission—and the public has a right to oppose them.


So the UCC’s media justice arm, OC Inc., short for UCC Office of Communication, Inc., joined with five other public interest organizations to file objections to this media concentration. The other groups are Free Press, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians and the Broadcasting and Cable Television Workers Sector of the Communication Workers of America (NABET), the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), and Common Cause.

The filing today and the every member of the public’s right to hold media accountable at the FCC are due to the legal rulings established by OC, Inc. More than 50 years ago, OC, Inc.’s founder, Everett Parker, mounted a concerted campaign to deny the license of WLBT-TV in Jackson, Miss and successfully divested the station from its owners.


One of the UCC members who helped with Wednesday's filing was inspired by the original work to take part.  St. Louis pastor David Beebe was new to ministry when Everett Parker created OC, Inc. “Up to then, I had thought of a denomination’s Office of Communication as the publicity arm of the church,” he says. “I hadn’t thought of it doing social justice. But I learned what he was doing in Jackson, Miss., and I was very proud. Now I’m grateful that OC, Inc., is still functioning and doing the work that Everett Parker started.”

FCC’s must act to address data gap in underserved communities’ needs, cannot rely on flawed study

In two filings today and yesterday, United Church of Christ, OC Inc. was pleased to address several important components of the Federal Communications Commission's proceedings considering media concentration limits.   Today, UCC OC Inc. joined The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights comments submitted in response to the Federal Communications Commission's release of the Critical Information Needs Research Design.  The comment praised the FCC for releasing the design and highlighted it as an important step to counter the substantial dearth of studies addressing the needs of underserved communities.  It noted that the FCC cannot proceed with its proposals  to change existing media ownership rules in the pending quadrennial review, explaining the current record is "flawed" because of "its lack of adequate data analyzing media concentration’s impact on people of color and women."  The letter described a number of refinements which would improve the research protocol.


Yesterday, UCC OC Inc. filed a detailed pleading analyzing  recent study by the Minority and Media Telecommunications Council, also in response to FCC request for comments.  The filing, written by Georgetown Law Center's Institute of Public Representation, concluded that the FCC "may not and should not" rely on the MMTC study in the ongoing media ownership and diversity proceedings.  Yesterday's filing described the study's flaws.  It explained that the study utilized only 14 interviews and lacked any transparency or description of the markets that were studied.  Further, while the study claimed that its results provided  no reasons to alter the FCC proposal to permit more consolidation, in fact 3 of the 14 interviewees did identify problems with the type of media consolidation in question -- joint ownership of TV stations and newspapers.  Finally, the study conflated a lack of evidence with proof that no harm exists--something that responsible research cannot do.


These filings are part of UCC OC Inc.'s on-going efforts to promote a diverse and accountable media.

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