Grass Roots Activists Derail US Media Owners

08 March 2007

NORTHAMPTON, Massachusetts: There has been a surge in grass roots opposition to the proposed relaxation of US media ownership rules. A campaign by not-for-profit, non-partisan lobbyists Free Press is gathering pace against the Federal Communications Commission's intent to loosen ownership limits on newspaper publishers and broadcasters in local markets.

The clamor against the FCC has risen to a pitch where chairman Kevin Martin says its proposals, originally intended for implementation this year, will have to wait until 2008 at least.

Last year Free Press pressure stalled a multimillion dollar lobbying effort by telcos on the hot issue of 'net neutrality' - ensuring that telephone, cable and other internet providers do not discriminate against competitors or users by limiting access or charging higher fees.

Free Press was launched in 2003. It now has 300,000 members, around two dozen full-time employees and a budget of approximately $2.5 million (€1.9m; £1.29m) per year. In 2006, it raised more than $5m in funding, mostly from private foundations with liberal tendencies. This year's target is $4.5m plus more grass roots organizers.

Inspired by its successes, Free Press is looking to a future where tightening of media rules could be possible.

Says Josh Silver, the group's co-founder and executive director: "We're going to use this opportunity to move the goalposts." He believes local ownership of TV stations or newspapers leads to more accountability and higher journalistic standards.

He adds: "If you watch TV news, it's all car crashes, shootings and Brangelina. If we can't create more hard-hitting journalism, then we have a real problem."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff