Do you know what you are not seeing on television? Last month a peace organization purchased national commercial airtime from Comcast cable to run an anti-war ad on the night of the State of the Union Address. The ad was pulled at the last minute and the chance to edit the ad, as is customary, was not granted. Comcast was concerned about content it could not "substantiate:" an assertion that the war "violates international law" (an issue debated before the UN) and a description of Bush and his cabinet as "self-appointed mercenaries" (at worst an insult and a form of protected speech).

Censorship? Comcast cable recently won approval of a major merger with AT&T Broadband Cable Company, a move that gives 70% of the audience in the top 20 markets. The merger passed without a peep from the FTC or FCC about anti-trust or public interest risks. Comcast and other cable giants are now also trying to head off congressional proposals that would rein in skyrocketing subscriber fees. Did Comcast withhold the ad to curry favor with politicians?

Many see this incident as just one of many ways the public interest is eroded under media consolidation. "This is an example of increment-alism," says Alicia Mundy, senior editor for Cable World, in an interview on NPR's On the Media. "It starts with people not knowing what they've missed -- and little by little there are things that just don't show -- until all of a sudden there's only one side of the issue being presented."

This incident occurs just as the FCC, under Chairman Michael Powell, is on the verge of eliminating the remaining barriers to media cross ownership. The FCC's plans will likely sweep away long-standing safeguards designed to ensure that the public can receive information, opinions and ideas from a robust array of sources. Control of the nation's TV stations, broadcast networks, and major newspapers will rest in the hands of fewer giant corporations.

Many in Congress, including Ohio Senator Mike Dewine, are concerned about the proposed rules and angry with the FCC for failing to have adequate public hearings and debate. In a January 28th letter, Senators Dewine and Hern Kohl wrote:

"we have expressed concern with the possible impact of media consolidation on how Americans receive their news, information, and entertainment -- courts have endorsed -- and logic supports -- the notion that more diverse media ownership most likely leads to more diverse media voices. While consolidation may lead to some economic efficiencies, the Commission must carefully weigh any potential efficiencies against the fundamental and real need to protect the ability of citizens to access differing views on news and public affairs. During the upcoming Congress, we plan to continue monitoring the Commission's ongoing rulemaking process to ensure the Commission adequately considers the issues."

As of this writing, only one official public hearing on the rules is scheduled -- February 27th in Richmond, VA -- but FCC commissioner Michael Copps, the only Democrat on the FCC, is organizing unofficial hearings around the country in an effort to pressure Powell to extend and open the regulatory process for congressional allies to push for hearings on ownership. The Nation magazine recently reported that over 2000 public comments were filed; most against the proposed rules, and that the protest has at least moderated the rhetoric of Chairman Powell and may sway one Commissioner into a 3-2 majority against rule change.

You can take action by contacting your congressional representatives and urging them to join Senator Dewine in calling for more public hearings. The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) makes this very easy. Visit; CDD provides background on the issue, a letter template, and a link to an email locator for your representative. Phone calls are always most effective and the number for the Capitol switchboard is (202) 224-3121. The official public comment period ended in early February but you can still voice your opinion directly to the FCC. You can call the FCC at 888-225-5322 and write to Commissioner Powell at

Sen. Dewine's comments can be found at: (look under "Related Items").

Rich James is a co-founder of The Neighborhood Network, a community organization working to provide media access and education to Columbus citizens. For information e-mail

Appears in Issue: