The Federal Communications Commission is conducting hearings on public reaction to proposed changes in media ownership. They are considering expanding the outlets corporate owners can hold. The FCC was in Nashville today and a group of performers, music industry executives, station owners and the public offered testimony. Here is my testimony.
I am the General Secretary of United Methodist Communications. We are responsible for communications and communications policy on behalf of the church globally. We have 35,000 congregations in the U.S. and more than 10,000 beyond U.S. borders.
I know you do not advocate censorship, but one of the consequences of relaxing the rules on ownership of media has been a form of censorship: a limiting of voices in the public dialogue that is so important to our representative democracy.
As rules on public service and ownership of media have been relaxed and as ownership consolidates into fewer and fewer hands, it is becoming more difficult, and more expensive, to project our voice into the public conversation.
The proliferation of new media does not necessarily increase access. The same corporations that own broadcast television and radio stations also own cable networks, Jumbotrons, billboards and in many cases, newspapers. Some are connecting with cell phone companies to distribute information through small screens. They apply corporate policies consistently, policies designed to maximize profit and limit what is perceived as risk.
Even when we pay, our messages are subject to corporate approval and sometimes we’re shut out. Two years ago when we attempted to purchase advertising space on an electronic billboard in Times Square we were told the corporate owner prohibited pornography, political and religious messages. And even now, some networks refuse to air our commercials ? which we pay for ? simply because we are a religious institution.
I realize you are not responsible for electronic billboards, but I cite this to illustrate that as ownership concentrated into fewer corporate headquarters puts us at the mercy of policy-makers far removed from our communities and we have virtually no recourse when we are denied access.
Under corporate policy, free speech–even speech that is not controversial–can be censored or prohibited outright.
We believe it is the responsibility of the church to foster community dialogue about matters that affect the quality of life of people in local communities. And it is our experience that owners from the community are more responsive to this dialogue and serve the community more effectively than corporations far removed from community concerns.
We urge you to encourage greater access through local ownership and through public service policies that foster more voices in the public conversation, and not continue the consolidation of ownership in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations distant from their audiences.