Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mixed News from Washington on media ownership and FOI

The good news comes from Capitol Hill as the House voted for amended Open Government Act today.

While not unexpected, the bad news comes from SW Washington where the Federal Communications Commission has voted to revise the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule allowing newspapers in the nation’s 20 largest markets to own one radio or TV station.

Unless the change is pre-empted by a vote on Capitol Hill, most observers say this opens the door to more consolidation. We’ll have to see about that.

For now, we can celebrate what members of Congress have done in the interest of free and open government--

“Passage of the FOIA bill will allow not only members of the press but all Americans to hold their government more accountable,” Society of Professional Journalists President Clint Brewer said in a press release this afternoon. “In a time when First Amendment rights are under attack almost daily in this country, this bill is a major step to ensuring America has a free press and a government that is transparent and open.”

Today’s vote comes days after the U.S. Senate passed Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National (OPEN) Government Act (S. 849) last week. The legislation improves the process by which the federal government carries out the Freedom of Information Act.

It creates an independent ombudsman to resolve citizen disputes, helps agencies strengthen FOIA, creates a tracking system for the public to easily track the status of requests and allows requesters to more effectively recover legal costs incurred when agencies improperly deny requests.

As the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, there are some members of Congress who disagree with the Commission. Last time the FCC tried to change media ownership rules, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the proposed changes. That was 2003. Today we have a very different political environment and that may make all the difference.

Nonetheless for those of us who follow convergence activity in the media, this new development from the FCC gives us a new topic for discussion and exchange.

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