Pop Artists Make Noise About Media Regulations

By | May 1, 2003 at 12:00 AM

A veritable who’s who of the pop music world are urging federal regulators to give the public and lawmakers a chance to review any changes made in the regulations that govern media ownership.

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, 34 recording artists ranging from Jimmy Buffett to Michael Stipe said the changes should be fully vetted before they win final approval.

“A refusal to allow Congress and the public to view and debate your specific proposal would be a tremendous disservice to the American public and the citizens who depend on these media structures for their livelihoods,” the artists wrote.

The letter comes as the FCC prepares to revamp a half-dozen rules that include regulations that effectively limit the number of TV stations one company can own, the federal bar preventing a company from owning a newspaper and a broadcast station in the same locale and regulations limiting the number of radio stations one owner can control in a single market.

FCC chairman Michael Powell has set a vote on the review for June 2. While Powell has said that the rules will not be eliminated, most observers think the commission will ease the regulations.

The recording artists fear that easing the rules will lead to more centralized control of the nation’s media outlets and will make it more difficult for competing voices to be heard. In their letter, they criticized the FCC for failing to include recording artists in its deliberations.

“We believe the record demonstrates both the value of existing media ownership rules and the dangers in permitting widespread consolidation of ownership,” they wrote. “We also believe the FCC has been negligent in listening to important stakeholder groups, like musicians, recording artists and radio professionals, to ensure their testimony is on the record.”

The musicians were particularly critical of recent Powell comments that appeared to dismiss concerns that negative repercussions could result from easing the rules.

“In a recent speech, you referred to your critics as ‘noisemakers’ using the ‘usual alarmist political attacks designed just to prevent change,”‘ they wrote. “With all due respect, we may be sounding an alarm, but we are not alarmist noisemakers. We are the concerned citizens and small-business owners whose welfare you are charged to protect. We ask for your respect and protection.”

They also had harsh words for the decision by Powell and commissioners Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin to avoid a series of public hearings on the matter.

“The de facto boycott of field hearings by you and commissioners Abernathy and Martin makes us question how interested some commissioners are in understanding the public’s interest in these matters,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by Jackson Browne, Thurston Moore, Buffett, Stevie Nicks, David Crosby, Joan Osborne, Neil Diamond, Van Dyke Parks, John Doe, Pearl Jam, Don Henley, Sandy Pearlman, Tom Petty, Indigo Girls (Amy Ray and Emily Saliers), Bonnie Raitt, Billy Joel, Kevin Richardson, Lenny Kaye, Patti Smith, Toby Keith, Stephan Smith, Ian MacKaye, Stipe, Ray Manzarek, Tom Waits, Ellis L. Marsalis Jr., Jennifer Warnes, Mya, Saul Williams, Tim McGraw, Nancy Wilson, Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky) and Sam Moore.

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