Interviews: Mills Fights Against FCC Ownership Rules Change

By Ronell Smith

A Federal Communications Commission proposal that could lead to the consolidation of media companies in the United States is very disturbing for music artists and consumers alike, according to Mike Mills, bassist for Athens-based rock band R.E.M.

The FCC is scheduled to vote June 2 on whether to relax rules governing media companies’ ownership of multiple media outlets in the same market. If the rules are relaxed, giant media companies could gobble up more radio stations in the same city.

Mills said relaxing the ownership rule could lead to narrowing the number of outlets consumers have to listen to music, and artists who don’t share a company’s specific viewpoint could be shut out from stations altogether.

”These very monopolies threaten the very foundation of American democracy: freedom of speech,” said Mills during a conference call Wednesday.

Mills was a panelist for Common Cause, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that has joined the opposition to the proposed ownership rule change.

Mills was joined on the panel by several others, including Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard and Robert McChesney, professor of communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Under current FCC rules, it is only in those media markets where there is a lot of competition that one company can own two or more outlets. The FCC also bars newspapers from owning a television station in the same market. However, it does allow television companies to own as many stations as they want, in a single market or nationwide, and allows one company to own both one television and one radio station in the same area.

Organizations like Common Cause say that relaxing the ownership rules would not only reduce choice, but amount to censorship of people whose opinions are not conducive to enhancing a company’s bottom line.

”I hope to at least help people take notice of this,” said Gossard. ”I’d just like to make the issue known, and if people feel the need, they can jump on the bandwagon.”

Also monitoring the FCC proposal is Paul Stone, president of the Southern Broadcasting Co. of Watkinsville, which has 12 stations that broadcast throughout Northeast Georgia, including WGAU-AM (1340), a news-talk station, WRFC-AM (960), a sports station, and WGMG-FM (102.1), a pop music station.

”We don’t know what will be in the legislation, but we are certainly going to read it with interest,” Stone said.

Mills said he will also be watching the ruling closely.

He said the decision could have wide-ranging impact. Aside from the impact on artists and consumers, he said, local stations are also likely to feel some effects. He said major companies are likely to buy smaller stations, then pump in automated content from outside the area, taking away local voices from the community.

”When (the stations) are controlled by automated systems, you don’t get any of (the local input),” said Mills. ”Consumers will probably hear less variety of music as well.”

Originally published on 22 May 2003 by Athens Banner-Herald

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