Saturday, November 10, 2007

And now I've been to the FCC hearing...

But I didn't get to talk to the FCC. Here is what happened....

The hearing got called with almost no notice. For 4:00 - 10:00 PM on the Friday before a three day weekend. Bad FCC. But I'm local, I care about media consolidation, and my day job is related to the FCC as I manage cable franchises and television stations (and a bunch more stuff that that - all of the technology for a medium sized city, so I don't actually get to spend much time on these issues, even though I care about them). I also think the media consolidation we've already had has pretty well ruined the national conversation about key issues like climate change, and further media consolidation is ludicrous.

I had an important meeting scheduled to go to 3 PM at Bellevue City Hall, and it then went over 5 minutes. I drove to a park and ride and took the bus to Seattle (remember climate change) and discovered the bus tunnel for the first time. I made sure I knew how to get back to the tunnel, having learned from big cities like Paris and NY that you'd best check landmarks so you don't get lost in the forest of buildings.

Thus fortified, I walked to Town Hall, which I am a member of, and which was a great place to hold the hearings. I was running over what I'd like to say to the commissioners in my head and trying not to be nervous about the whole thing. I got there about 4:10 to find the Governor delivering a very good speech, although she was facing us instead of the FCC commissioners, which seemed not-quite-right. The room was over half full, but I got a good seat anyway.

Then Maria Cantwell and Jay Inslee and Dave Reichert and other Washington State politicians delivered addresses to us via pre-recorded video. These were all good speeches and they got 5 minutes each. But there wasn't even a pretense that the information had been prepared FOR the FCC except that it ended up in the formal record of the meeting, which might have been the point although no one said so. At any rate, the FCC didn't have any doubt how they stood - they'd just met with them in person in Washington. Then a few more local politicians who had made it here (for the Washington ones, the FCC had scheduled this while congress was in session, so they couldn't be here) talked for their five minutes each. Good for them.

Then each FCC commissioner talked for five minutes (except one, who said he wasn't going to waste our time, but is suspected to be on the pro-consolidation side of the issue and might just have not wanted to be yelled at). Oh - and the audience was very interactive with all of these speeches. And very much against media consolidation. Like 95% or better against media consolidation, and against the FCC and against big government. Not for much as far as I could tell, except a few people, but that's a different issue. And the main topic was something worth being against.

So, now we're a hour and a half into the hearing, maybe more. We've heard a lot of short and very well-written and well delivered speeches. Could have been a national debate final or something. About two of them have been cautiously trying to explain to a hostile audience why media consolidation is good. They were pretty ineffective.

Next, a panel of experts gets five minutes each. Frank Blethen from the Seattle Times did a great job. Some Latino labor union people got the audience almost in tears. Three-quarters of these speakers were against further consolidation. These are also all professionally delivered talks, and I learned from listening to them. There were about fifteen television stations worth of cameras in the room, and I actually think this part would be the one most worth listening to as far as the prepared speeches go.

Now it's 6:30 and not one member of the general public has gotten to talk to the FCC until now. So the general public gets two minutes each. Belatedly, I figure out I need to sign up and go find the table. It's in the far back, on a different floor, in a darkish corner. I'm number 227. Why wasn't the table right up front when you walked through the doors?

I go back up and listen to the public testimony. It's actually quite good. I'm proud of us - the general public. Mind you, by general public, I mostly mean local broadcasters, local small press, activists, people who do their own shows on public TV, minorities, children. Bright people with the skin in the game of this issue. There's actually some humor now, too. We've been in the room for over three hours being talked to, and now there's some punchy but good humor and some tender moments.

But 8:30 or so, they're on speaker number 29. I'm 227. A little over an hour to get through 20 speakers. That means there's 10 hours worth of people who want to talk, and I'm hour number 10. Now, some will give up and go home. So maybe I'll get to talk by midnight. I haven't had any dinner, and thank god I brought water since there isn't any of that either. There's no support except bathrooms and a sign that says "bottled water only" but doesn't provide any bottled water. I've never taken a bus from Seattle after dark. I think I can find the bus tunnel. I'm hungry. It's been a long week at work, not one of those 40 hour weeks of hard work that feel about right, but one of those 50 to 60 hour weeks, and I've got a novel to finish approving the copy edits on, to boot. I decide I can't wait until midnight to talk to the FCC, and they probably won't be able to hear anything by then, anyway, even if they try. They're human, and six hours of talking heads all saying close to the same thing will wear anyone out.

So I find the bus tunnel, which is closed (it wouldn't be closed in Paris). But given the evening, this seems oddly appropriate. It takes about 15 minutes of wandering around Seattle in the dark and the rain while people are rowdy and a little scary to find the bus stop that will work, and I get twenty blessed minutes to sit and read fiction while I get driven across the lake and back to suburbia.

Surely we can do public process better than this? That's partly my job, so I'll mull over it after I've caught up on my sleep. In the meantime, well, if you see the FCC, tell them media consolidation is a bad idea.

1 comment:

Todd Boyle said...

The information we need to understand the results of all our lifes' decisions has ALWAYS been very, very insufficient. As civilization got more complicated, information replaced physical force in determining all economic outcomes. And the speed of concentrated companies and blocs increased, newspapers and broadcast actually got farther and farther behind. We need to change the rules, much more deeply than these stupid consolidation questions. Media was bad long before consolidation. Two things must change in the world, as I testified in 2003, 2006 and 2007 FCC hearings: the government protections of copyright over factual, news and documentary content must be removed, and, the government protections over broadcasters' spectrum must be removed. -tboyle at rosehill net