Indie media owners criticize consolidation

Chicago independent media owners and activists last night urged the Federal Communications Commission to make it harder for big companies to  monopolize ownership of news outlets.

At a public hearing on media ownership held at Operation Push National Headquarters on the South Side, the discussion centered on how media consolidation affects ownership diversity.

"Roughly two-thirds of the people in [Chicago] are black and Hispanic, and over half are women. But they collectively own just six percent of TV and radio stations in the Chicago market," said Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.

But  Dorothy Leavell, publisher and editor of the Chicago Crusader, said the FCC itself had shown "unchecked disregard for minority readership and viewership."

Leavell specifically referred to a series of local marketing agreements (LMAs) proposed by the FCC in 1996 that could have limited the number of stations some media groups could control.

"The FCC issued a deathblow to small minority-owned organizations that can't afford advertising," she said. Everyone knows that LMAs are really "losing my ass agreements," she continued.

Panel members from Chicago media outlets including Cynthia Canary, director of Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and Melody Spann Cooper, general manager of WVON (AM) in Chicago lamented the fact that broadcasting organizations such as Clear Channel own so much airspace.

"News is packaged from New York and Washington," said Canary. For an average thirty minute news program there are seven minutes of commercial and only three dedicated to local government, she said.

Not everyone who spoke was against media consolidation. Some consolidation "allows us to share newsgathering resources," said Tom Langmeyer, vice president and general manager of WGN in Chicago. "WGN is strengthened by historic ties with the Tribune."

WGN is owned by the Tribune.

Most panel members, including Federal Communications Commissioners, agreed that consolidation of media in general is detrimental to the public interest.

"There should be government enforced measure so independent broadcasters can grow and increase in today's marketplace," said Cooper.