Tonight: Public Forum on Media Ownership and Diversity

There will be a town hall forum on “the Future of Diversity in the Nation’s Media” tonight, October 19, at 6:00 pm at Hunter College’s Kaye Playhouse, located at East 68th Street between Park and Lexington Avenue.

In attendance will be the two Democratic members of the FCC, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein. M1 from Dead Prez is also scheduled to attend, thanks to the work of R.E.A.C.Hip-Hop, which is asking people to represent for hip hop at the forum by wearing red. And Betty Ellen Berlamino, vice president/general manager of WPIX-TV, New York, will be there.

(Does anyone else remember the Space Invaders-inspired contest WPIX used to host way back in the day where a lucky caller – usually a kid after school – made the spaceship fire by saying “pix” into the phone? Anyone who can tell me what the stakes of that contest were gets a one-year subscription to Clamor Magazine.)

I don’t know if there will actually be a chance for everyone to speak at the forum, but if you are looking for inspiration, you can browse the statements from the now-legendary 2004 FCC hearing in San Antonio.

Keep in mind that tonight’s event is a public forum, but it is not an official FCC hearing. That means, if you want your comment to count, you need to submit it to the FCC, regardless of whether you say it at the forum. StopBigMedia.com has helpful online tools for that and other actions.

The ownership debate comes in many forms. The focus of tonight’s discussion is the “ownership proceedings” in which the FCC will consider easing restrictions on cross-ownership of newspapers and raising the limits on how many broadcast outlets one entity can own in a single market.

More pressing, at least in terms of deadlines, is the proposed merger between AT&T and BellSouth, which the FCC is currently reviewing. The $78 billion deal would yield a communications behemoth that would control nearly half of all US telephones with 70 million phone customers. It would also own Cingular, the largest cell phone provider in the country, including the spectrum controlled by the wireless carrier. The new company would also be a close second to Comcast in the broadband market, with 9.1 million customers.

AT&T is trying to convince the FCC to approve the deal by promising things like $10 introductory rates for DSL service and free modems, which sound more like good marketing ploys than public interest concessions. Copps and Adelstein are pushing for more substantive conditions.

For a gripping and detailed explanation of the status of that merger, I refer you to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President of the Media Access Project and his Tales of the Sausage Factory. He includes instructions for how to comment on that deal.

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