Tricks, no treats at FCC hearing

Costumed protesters lead charge in localism battle

WASHINGTON -- The FCC got an earful and an eyeful during the commission's hearing on broadcast localism Wednesday when protesters dressed as cheerleaders and a self-styled "corporate media whore" brought Halloween satire to the staid agency.

Samantha Miller wore a skimpy French maid costume with fake money stuffed into her bustier and the names of big media companies written like tattoos on her exposed flesh. She urged the commission to "stop prostituting our airwaves."

A protester for the anti-war group Code Pink, Miller said the big media companies had "sold us on the Iraq War" and are marginalizing the voices of most Americans who oppose the conflict. The FCC "cheerleaders" were also from Code Pink.

Miller nearly didn't get to make her statement as security guards attempted to throw her out.

The localism issue is one of the more difficult ones with which the commission is wrestling. It is entwined with the panel's media ownership proceeding, a matter that FCC chairman Kevin Martin has said he would like to wrap up by year's end.

Martin wants the FCC to allow a single company to own a newspaper and a TV station in the same city. While some such combinations exist now, they are allowed under temporary waivers. The commission could also allow more broadcast stations to come under the same ownership.

Critics of those changes contend that allowing a more concentrated media will decrease local control and local content. Many of them turned out for Wednesday's hearing, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who told the panel that he hoped the hearing "is not a fig leaf to cover up a fait accompli."

"For too long, media policy has been made behind closed doors," he told the commission. "This broken, corrupt process has allowed too few people to own too much at the expense of too many. It's time to democratize our public airwaves and democratize how the FCC does business."

Allowing too few hands to control the major media outlets has been especially hard on minorities, he said. "Representation is directly tied to ownership," he said. "Fewer owners mean fewer opportunities."

Some broadcasters have also questioned easing the rules.

Jim Goodman, the president and CEO of Capital Broadcasting in North Carolina, also pleaded with the commission to keep the current rules. Easing the ownership barriers could harm the nation's switch to digital TV, he said.

"Please don't do anything about ownership," he said. "Why work on ownership when we are at the end of an era? I'm really worried that you will change one thing and then the whole rulemaking will be thrown out."