In a May 18 letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, more than a dozen members of Illinois' congressional delegation urged him to give his "personal attention" to a Tribune Company request for waivers from rules that protect diversity of news in local markets.
Durbin: Against Big Media Until He Was For It
The waivers are a linchpin in Chicago real estate mogul Sam Zell's effort to take over the Tribune. The deal rests on transferring several contested broadcast licenses from Tribune Company to the new owner. Of particular concern are broadcast licenses in Los Angeles, Hartford, New York and Miami where the company owns both a local daily newspaper and at least one local television station. While the law forbids such "cross-ownership," Chairman Martin has a history of making special exemptions for friends in consolidated media.
It's disappointing to see others in Congress following Martin's lead and putting political expediency before their constituents needs for more diverse and competitive media.
Among those signing the letter was Illinois' senior Senator Dick Durbin, Chicago-based Representative Bobby Rush, both Democrats, and District 11 Representative Jerry Weller, a Republican.
These three are the same members who in 2003 voted for a Joint Resolution to reprimand Michael Powell's F.C.C. for loosening the last limits to runaway media consolidation; Durbin actually co-sponsored the 2003 resolution.
So what caused the sudden change of heart?
These elected representatives apparently buckled to pressure from a powerful Illinois lobby -- which also happens to own the state's most influential newspaper and television stations - and sold out earlier commitments to a more democratic and diverse media system.
Members of Congress can no longer pay lip service to media reform and then turn around to grant special favors to Big Media.
One positive note: Illinois' other senator, Barack Obama, is conspicuous by his absence in the letter. Earlier this year Obama joined Senator Kerry of Massachusetts to call on the FCC to address the lack of minority, women and small business owners in the U.S. media system before taking any action that would allow Big Media to get even bigger.
"The goals of promoting minority, women, and small business ownership in the communications industry are set forth in the Communications Act of 1934," they wrote. "Ensuring that such directives are accomplished is important to achieving a diverse media, particularly in an era of increased media concentration."
It's good to see that some members of Congress are sticking to their principles.