Public Interest Groups on Court Ruling Clearing Way for FCC to Erode Rules Allowing Further Media Consolidation

For Immediate Release: June 15, 2017

Contact: Courtney Holsworth, courtney@balestramedia.com, 989.572.8162

 

Public Interest Groups on Court Ruling Clearing Way for FCC to Erode Rules Allowing Further Media Consolidation

 

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied the emergency stay motion filed by public interest groups, including the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Free Press, Common Cause, Media Alliance, and United Church of Christ, OC, Inc., which sought to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from implementing its decision to reinstate the so-called UHF discount. This will allow the FCC to make it easier for the nation’s largest television ownership groups to acquire additional stations, and crowd out diverse and local voices.  The groups are represented by the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center. Despite this interim ruling, the Court will hear the appeal later this year.

 

The FCC’s April, 2017 decision issued overturned a ruling issued in September, 2016 by an new Commission majority created after two Obama Administration appointees left the Commission. It allows large TV groups to evade a cap on how many stations they own by counting only half of the audience of UHF frequency TV stations towards a Congressionally-established limit of 39% of the nation’s TV homes. This undermines the goals of the Communications Act to promote localism, competition and diversity.

 

In the wake of the FCC’s decision to reinstate the discount, on May 8th Sinclair Broadcast Group announced plans to purchase Tribune Media TV stations for $3.9 billion. The deal would create a broadcast colossus with more than 200 TV stations, and would result in Sinclair reaching more than 70 percent of the national audience with stations in large cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas. However, by reinstating the technically outdated UHF discount, this large deal would mean that Sinclair would be in compliance with the 39% ownership limit.

 

Read more about the case here: http://bit.ly/2qXEz96

 

“The Court of Appeals’ decision to allow the reinstatement of the UHF discount makes it easier for huge ownership groups to take over the media market, at the expense of Latinos, media owners of color and local voices that seek to serve their diverse communities,” said Carmen Scurato, director of policy and legal affairs at the National Hispanic Media Coalition. “The DC Court has cleared the way for massive consolidation, negatively impacting the thousands of owners and consumers that this appeal represented. The FCC has a mandate to act in the public interest yet by reinstating the UHF discount, Chairman Pai has signaled that he is on the side of big media conglomerates that want more control of what we see and hear on the airwaves.”

 

“We're disappointed by the court's decision to deny the stay, but still plan to show the unlawful nature of the FCC's arbitrary and capricious decision under review in this case,” said Gaurav Laroia, Policy Counsel at Free Press. “Chairman Pai's decision to revive this obsolete rule would allow broadcast consolidation far beyond the already high limits set by Congress. And that would grease the skids for companies like Sinclair to cash in, acquiring other media conglomerates like Tribune with the merger those two companies proposed last month. Runaway broadcast consolidation at the national and local level is bad for competition, diversity and localism in broadcasting. Sinclair's practices are a prime example of how consolidation undermines those three principles, with its penchant for dictating coverage to local affiliates and intervening in the editorial decisions of the stations it owns.

 

“Chairman Ajit Pai, President Trump’s appointee at the Federal Communications Commission, is a full partner in the Trump Administration's attack on the press,” said Cheryl Leanza, Policy Advisor at United Church of Christ, OC, Inc. “With his decision to put an obsolete rule back on the books, Chairman Pai will devastated the American public’s access to multiple points of view from hard news sources. We look forward to a positive result when the court reviews the substance of this irrational and dangerous decision.”

 

“The UHF discount has long outlived its usefulness,” said former FCC Commissioner and Common Cause Special Adviser Michael Copps. “Reinstating it was a huge, unwarranted gift to Big Broadcast. So it is disappointing that the court did not rein in the broadcast-friendly majority at the FCC. We remain committed to halting the wave of media consolidation the FCC majority has sought to unleash.”

 

“The petitioners in this case regret the abrupt reinstatement of the admittedly obsolete UHF discount rule to aid a single corporation. Rushing through yet more media consolidation in a hasty and ill-considered manner is no favor to the public's increasing frustration with the media,” stated Tracy Rosenberg, Executive Director at Media Alliance.

 

“This case is far from over,” said Professor Angela J. Campbell, Director of the Communications and Technology Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation. “Most stay motions are denied. The Court’s unwillingness to grant our motion doesn’t change the fact that we have strong legal arguments against Chairman Pai’s unseemly rush to allow the nation’s largest broadcasters to become even larger.”

 

The stay motion and the reply to the oppositions to the stay motion can be viewed here and here.

 

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We Believe in Net Neutrality

A free and open Internet is critical for the people of faith. No matter the faith tradition -- be it Evangelical, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Sikh or Buddhist -- each of us relies on the open Internet to build community, express love for the divine, and stand with others for justice. Most faith institutions do not have the money to compete with corporate commercial media: the repeal of net neutrality protections will put faithful and religious content on the margins of the Internet by granting a preference for those who can pay. 

 

And while the proceeding starting today is focused on net neutrality, its legal implications extend far beyond those rules. Low income access to affordable internet is just one of the policies that could be jeopardized by this proceeding. 

 

Today's vote is a disappointment for anyone who seeks to lift up her voice online in support of the beloved community.

Racism, Threats Have no Place in Policy Debates

At a time of robust policy debates, it is important that the public weigh in on proposals that are central to their lives--from health care to net neutrality to environmental protections that safeguard health. Recent reports and social media have noted several racist and threatening filings directed against Federal Communications Commission against Chairman Ajit Pai.  The United Church of Christ's media justice ministry condemns any racial epithets or personal threats, and encourages commenters to engage with civility.  As the UCC's civility pledge states, "insulting, attacking or demonizing people with whom we disagree is unproductive and unacceptable."  We urge any agencies that experience this rhetoric, including the Federal Communications Commission, to focus on the substantive debate and to keep public comments open so they do not reward hateful behavior.

United Church of Christ’s Media Justice Ministry Statement: New FCC Chairman Pai

We congratulate Ajit Pai on being designated chairman of the Federal Communications Commission today.  We hope to work with Mr. Pai on many areas of common concern, such as media diversity and competition, affordable access to broadband, the end of predatory prison phone rates, and a free and open Internet.  Although Mr. Pai has often spoken eloquently about his commitment to these shared goals, we have not yet been able to find common ground on the means to these ends. 

We believe that media ownership diversity must be premised on hard data, detailed and rigorous study, rigorous enforcement of the FCC's rules, and ownership by women and people of color that does not leave them financially dependent upon large corporations or struggling to succeed as small companies in overly consolidated media markets. 

 

We believe that affordable access to broadband depends on a robust Lifeline program--a program that was built on conservative principles during the Reagan years as a public-private partnership using efficient market mechanisms to assist only those in need.  Low-income people will get affordable broadband if Lifeline is supported, not torn down, by communications policy leaders. 

 

We believe in fair and just telephone rates for the millions of children, families and clergy seeking to connect with in prison, detention centers and jails.  Leaders who agree, as Mr. Pai has said he does, that these rates are unjust and must be reduced have a moral obligation to defend and protect these innocent families.  Relying on the unverified, self-serving claims of companies and correctional facilities facing no limit on their desire to increase profits will lead to even more abusive rates.

 

We believe that, as the backbone of an increasing share of all our national conversations, a free and open Internet protected by Net Neutrality is fundamental to social justice.  All people must be able to speak with their own, God-given, voices, regardless of their incomes or races. Government leaders, locally and nationally, must be able to ensure that all children and families have access to affordable broadband in their schools and homes.  Our ability to speak and participate in civic discourse should not depend on whether we access the internet via a smartphone or a computer.  Commercial popularity should not be the sole arbiter of whether a story can be heard.

 

People of faith know the power of a story to change hearts and to change the world.  In modern times, we visit people in prison via telephone, we love our neighbors as ourselves online, and we care for the least of these because we view them (or not) on television.

 

Today, Mr. Pai must start the hard work of governing, rather than dissenting.  We will see whether Mr. Pai's policies produce an open marketplace of ideas or whether they simply support large corporate conglomerates that are politically indebted to an administration that has shown no reluctance to attack journalists for reporting the facts.  We will see whether low-income families get access to broadband or whether clergy can afford to call their congregants in prison.  We will see if the non-commercial stories of God are pushed to internet slow-lanes in favor of highly profitable commercial entertainment.  As part of the United Church of Christ, we believe in civil dialogue in disagreement, even as we remain committed to our prophetic witness for justice.  Even in times of great challenge, we commit to both.

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A Post-Election Season of Healing

Cheryl Leanza wrote this blog, inspired by the wise words of the Rev. Traci Blackmon in her Parker Lecture.

Stand Up Against Hate and Find Our Common Humanity

We have one week to go until our nation goes to the polls. Everyone acknowledges that this electoral season has been one of the most vitriolic in modern memory, perhaps not surprising given the evidence we’ve seen that our country is becoming increasingly polarized on the basis of race, political ideology and geography.

Read more on Medium.

Powerful Stories at the 34th Annual Parker Lecture

ful stories were retold today as a faith leader, a government regulator and a rural advocate were honored at the 34th Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C. The annual lecture is sponsored by Office of Communications, Inc. (OC Inc.), the media justice ministry of the United Church of Christ (UCC), which was founded by the late Rev. Parker.

Commissioner Clyburn, Dee Davis, Rev. Traci Blackmon

The Rev. Traci Blackmon, this year’s Parker Lecturer, framed her remarks by recounting a West African proverb: “Until the lion tells the story, the hunter will always be the hero.” Blackmon, currently the UCC’s acting executive minister for justice and witness ministries, came to national attention in the fall of 2014 as part of the pastoral presence working to quell months of civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the fatal police shooting of black teenager Michael Brown there.

Blackmon noted that as a young African-American girl growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, and later as pastor of a church near Ferguson, she had learned something of the “power and marginalization of the lion’s story.”

She stressed the importance of understanding the context of a story, and cast the Brown shooting within the history of the St. Louis metropolitan area and a long list of recent shootings of unarmed black men by police officers. She noted that “the mainstream media is not the only resource for hearing the story of the lion,” and pointed to the role that social media had played in the coverage of the Ferguson story.

Rev. Traci Blackmon

But she also spoke, powerfully, of her own temptation to claim the high road but “remove the humanity” of those with whom she disagrees. “But when we do that,” she concluded, “we are not better and we are no more righteous.” She cautioned, “it is too easy to look outside ourselves for the answers that lie within,” because “within us all lies both the lion and the hunter.” “We are experts at extrapolating stories that soothe us, but God has not called us to be comforted, but rather to comfort the afflicted.” 

In her acceptance speech, Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn turned to a Biblical text in accepting the Newton Minow Award, conferred by the UCC in recognition of exemplary government service in support of the public interest. Clyburn, who faced scrutiny when took office in 2009 without previous experience in Washington, quoted from 1 Samuel 16: “people look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” She noted “people had doubts, people drew conclusions, but they did not know what was in my heart.” 

Commissioner Clyburn

Clyburn, who served as acting chair of the agency in 2013, was recognized for her leadership in restricting the predatory telephone rates that had been charged to families and friends of prisoners, and for the agency’s moves to modernize the Lifeline program that helps low-income people afford telecommunications services. She described a recent visit to a correctional facility, looking in the eyes of a small boy who gets few opportunities to visit his incarcerated mother. She noted that in the half-century since Everett Parker founded OC Inc., the “next generation of advanced telecommunications services” present “issues that are increasingly complex.” But, she said, the mission of the FCC still needed to be focused on ensuring that all Americans have access to “robust and affordable telecommunications services.”

Dee Davis, president and founder of the Center for Rural Strategies, received the Everett C. Parker Award for work embodying the principles and values of the public interest in telecommunications and media. Davis got his start as a trainee at Appalshop, the arts and cultural center in Whitesburg, Ky., and eventually rose to be its president.

Davis expressed his appreciation that “people in this town,” the nation’s capital, had launched the War on Poverty in the 1960s, providing funds that had built the center for “the people in my town,” and teaching him skills in media production. He joked that the award would “vindicate the Hillbilly Sunday School teachers who gave up on me.”

Dee Davis

Looking back on his career, and the “powerful tools” that are now available—cameras, computers, and broadcast licenses—he urged his audience to “use them for good.” He spoke movingly about the power of being a “witness to history.”

OC Inc. established the Parker Lectureship in 1983 to recognize its founder’s pioneering work as an advocate for the public’s rights in broadcasting. In 1963, Parker filed a petition with the FCC that ultimately stripped WLBT-TV in Jackson, Mississippi, of its broadcast license and established the principle that the public could participate in matters before the agency. Parker died on September 17, 2015 at the age of 102. The Parker Lecture is the only lecture in the country to examine telecommunications in the digital age from an ethical perspective.

More photos, video clips and materials from the Lecture will be available on UCC OC Inc.'s web site in the near future.

Job Posting: Part-time Communications Associate

UCC OC Inc., the United Church of Christ's media justice advocate seeks a part-time communications associate to produce and manage web content and social media.

 

Responsibilities include:

  • Writing communications framed from a faith-based, progressive, civil rights oriented perspective, including action alerts, newsletters, and web page.
  • Drafting Facebook and Twitter posts, managing their distribution, reinforcing partner and ally messages.
  • Managing UCC OC Inc.'s web site at www.uccmediajustice.org which is run on the SALSA Labs platform.
  • Detail oriented, proof reading skills important, able to work under deadlines.
  • Associate will both produce content and upload it into content management systems, some html skills helpful but not required.
 

Hours vary week to week but average about 10 per week. Rate of pay is negotiable and based on experience.

Location flexible; UCC OC Inc. based in Washington DC. Apply by emailing cover note, resume and sample work product (links or hard copy) to info@uccmediajustice.org, subject line: COMMUNICATIONS JOB. Rolling applications process.

Smart Cities & Big Data: Where’s the Ethical Framework?

Last week, half a world away, Secretary of State John Kerry and Commerce Secretary Pritzker were engaged in high-level dialogue with political leaders in India.  On the agenda: “smart cities.”

All around the world, cities are often on the forefront of cutting edge policy debates.  While in the U.S., the “laboratories of democracy” are thought of traditionally as states, in fact cities often take the lead.  And in few areas will this be more true than in the civic use of “big data.”  [Read more…]

Media ownership diversity ignored again

Today’s Federal Communications Commission order on media ownership is the regulatory equivalent or waving a white flag of surrender. The critical issues of race, power, white privilege and justice are at the center for our national conversation; the media’s coverage of the presidential election may well be determinative of the outcome; and the FCC is peering timidly out from the shadows, showing none of the bold leadership that it brought to bear elsewhere in the last two years.

The FCC made absolutely no progress on media diversity. It has ignored, for a third time, the mandate of the U.S. courts and the directives of the Communications Act. While the FCC did maintain the existing rules, meaning it has not given a green light to more media consolidation, Congress’ action to permit companies to circumvent those rules means we are likely to see—in practice—more joint operations than ever. 

The FCC failed to engage with industry, the civil rights community, or public interest advocates to find any meaningful action to fulfill its statutory obligation to promote media diversity. It is no surprise that we are seeing the same re-hash of the same issues as we have for the last twenty years.

In 1968, the Kerner Commission concluded, “the press has too long basked in a white world, looking out of it, if at all, with white men's eyes and a white perspective. That is no longer good enough. The painful process of readjustment that is required of the American news media must begin now. They must make a reality of integration--in both their product and personnel. They must insist on the highest standards of accuracy--not only reporting single events with care and skepticism, but placing each event into meaningful perspective. They must report the travail of our cities with compassion and depth.”

History’s lesson is as relevant today as it was then. Our only hope is that the next FCC Chair will take up these matters with seriousness and dispatch.

Clyburn and Davis to be Honored in 2016 Awards

FCC COMMISSIONER MIGNON CLYBURN
AND RURAL CHAMPION DEE DAVIS TO BE HONORED
AT 34TH ANNUAL EVERETT C. PARKER LECTURE

The United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry will honor Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and rural advocate Dee Davis when it holds the 34th Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture and Awards Breakfast on October 13. 

As previously announced, the Rev. Traci Blackmon, acting executive minister of the UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries, will deliver this year’s lecture, to be held at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 945 G Street NW, in Washington, DC, beginning at 8 a.m.

Commissioner Clyburn will receive the Newton Minow Award in recognition of her work at the commission to reform predatory prison telephone rates and to modernize the Lifeline program that supports telecommunications services to low-income households. This marks only the second time that the UCC’s Office of Communication Inc. (OC Inc.) has conferred the Minow Award, given in recognition of exemplary government service. Clyburn has been a member of the FCC since 2009, and served as its acting chair from May to November 2013.

Dee Davis, president and founder of the Center for Rural Strategies, will receive the Everett C. Parker Award, in recognition of more than 40 years of work to bring telecommunications services to rural America, particularly the people of Appalachia. The Parker Award is given annually in recognition of an individual whose work embodies the principles and values of the public interest in telecommunications and the media as demonstrated by the late Rev. Dr. Parker, OC Inc.’s founder.

Starting as a trainee in 1973 at Appalshop, the prominent Appalachia-based media, arts, and education center, Davis became its first president and spearheaded a number of initiatives that used media as a strategic tool for organizing and rural development. In 2000, he founded the Center for Rural Strategies to improve economic and social conditions for rural communities, both at home and around the world, through the innovative use of media and communications. Since then, he and the center have been instrumental in building and managing the National Rural Assembly, a coalition of more than 1,000 organizations and individuals seeking to promote the concerns of rural America.

Rev. Blackmon, this year’s Parker Lecturer, came to national attention in the fall of 2014 as part of the pastoral presence working to quell months of civil unrest in Ferguson, MO, following the fatal police shooting of black teenager Michael Brown. She assumed her current UCC post last January, and has since been appointed by President Barack Obama to his 15-member Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The Parker Lecture was created in 1982 to recognize the Rev. Dr. Parker’s pioneering work as an advocate for the public's rights in broadcasting. The event is the only lecture in the country to examine telecommunications in the digital age from an ethical perspective.  Rev. Dr. Parker died in 2015 at the age of 102.

The Cleveland-based United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination with nearly 1 million members and more than 5,000 local congregations nationwide, recognizes the unique power of the media to shape public understanding and thus society as a whole. For this reason, the UCC’s OC, Inc. has worked since its founding in 1959 to create just and equitable media structures that give a meaningful voice to diverse peoples, cultures and ideas.  

For more information about the 2016 Parker Lecture and Breakfast, or to purchase tickets, go to www.uccmediajustice.org.

United Church of Christ, Office of Communication Inc.