American corporate media lobby
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The American corporate media lobby which has included (among others) the National Association of Broadcasters (founded in 1922) and the American Newspaper Publishers Association (founded in 1887, now a part of Newspaper Association of America) has been involved in the shaping of media ownership regulations since the early days of the industry. In that time, they have repeatedly sought out their own interests, in many cases at the expense of the public interest. Among the strategies employed by the American corporate media lobby is direct lobbying, which refers to attempts to influence a legislative body through direct communication with a member or employee of a legislative body, or with a government official who participates in formulating U.S.legislation. Other methods include fundraising, coalition building, and in some instances, grassroots lobbying.
The contemporary corporate media lobby
Throughout most of its history, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been a relatively invisible part of the U.S. government, known mostly to industry stakeholders, lobbyists, and officials. With the general public in the dark regarding its practices and responsibilities – which of course has included the construction of regulatory policies that have shaped the U.S. media industry – this has given a tremendous advantage to those knowledgeable of the FCC’s practices and organized enough to influence them. As Chester notes, [t]he FCC has long been the second home to a legion of (lawyers and lobbyists) […] whose occupation is convincing the staff and commissioners to approve policies that benefit a particular company or industry. Indeed, there is evidence that the FCC continues to be influenced by the corporate media lobby.
Having been a part of the regulatory structure for so many years, it is safe to assume that the corporate media lobby is known well by Federal regulators (“the lobby” of course consists of a variety of organizations). The strong, direct relationships that have developed over the years between regulators and corporate media lobbyists – which Zorack notes as essential to greater influence – go much deeper than the notion that the lobby has simply been around for a while. Members of the FCC have traditionally had strong connections to industry. As the job of an FCC Commissioner (or staffer) is often highly technical, and specific knowledge of the dynamics of the telecommunications and media industries a must, it makes sense that Commissioners are often plucked out of high-paying jobs in the industry. More to the point, as history has shown, because FCC Commissioners are appointed only to five-year terms, there is evidence of a revolving door between the Commission and industry; as Chester notes, “[t]hey usually go directly to work for the media or telecommunications businesses after they leave office.” (Ibid, p. 49) Of course, the jobs Commissioners often take after their terms expire are not fixing radio transmitters or editing newspaper copy, many of them become influential lobbyists. Indeed, many of the lobbyists that frequent the FCC’s office are former commission staff, “not infrequently including ex-commissioners and ex-chairs.” (Chester, 2007, p. 47) In fact,
- [e]very former (FCC) chair for the last three decades has gone to work in one way or another with the media and telecommunications industry. … As one aide to an FCC commissioner privately remarked, ‘People leave here on Friday and are lobbying me the following Monday! (Chester, 2007, p. 50)
Notable examples go back almost fifty years, such as former FCC Chair Newton Minow who after leaving the Commission became a partner at Sidley and Austin, one of the country’s most successful media industry law firms. In more recent years, he has served on the boards of media companies such as CBS and Tribune and advertising companies including Foote, Cone & Belding. E. William Henry, Chair from 1963 through 1966 and Dean Burch (1969–1974) also became industry lawyers after leaving the FCC. Burch in particular is notable because after many years, he left his practice to run Intelsat – an organization that manages global communications satellites. Most notable among the many is former Chair Richard Wiley (1974–1977), still described today as the FCC’s “sixth commissioner” (Ibid, p. 53). His law firm Wiley Rein & Fielding, aside from being perhaps the largest communications law firm in the U.S., has represented both industry advocacy groups (including the NAA and the NAB) as well as numerous media conglomerates including Time Warner, Gannett, Clear Channel, CBS, Verizon, Microsoft and General Electric (Ibid, p. 53).
In recent years especially, Wiley has become extremely influential and has “supplied more lawyers to the important telecommunications posts in the Bush administration than any other firm.” Former Wiley associates were also appointed to important posts in the Bush White House as well as various cabinet positions (Ibid, p. 54). It goes on and on, former Wiley associates have also been advisors to some of the country’s most powerful Senators including Bill Frist (R-TN). Even former FCC Chair Kevin Martin worked for Wiley at one point. After some consideration, perhaps these relationship aren’t so surprising; politicians (and businesses) want the most knowledgeable, well-connected individuals working for them, which keeps the pool of potential hires quite small. Indeed, to suggest that Zorack’s most influential lobbying strategy – access – is an advantage of the corporate media lobby, certainly would be a tremendous understatement.
- McChesney, Robert (1993). Telecommunications, mass media, & democracy: the battle for. New York: Oxford.
- Everett, M.L. (1973). "FCC license renewal policy: the broadcasting lobby versus the public interest". Southwestern Law Journal 27: 325–339.
- McChesney, Robert (2004). The Problem of the Media. Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers.
- "'Direct' and 'Grass Roots' Lobbying Defined", IRS, accessed March 20, 2010.
- Chester, Jeff (2007). Digital destiny: new media and the future of democracy. New York: New Press.
- Obar, Jonathan A. (2009). "Beyond cynicism: A review of the FCC’s reasoning for modifying the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule". Communication Law & Policy 14 (4): 479–525. doi:10.1080/10811680903238084.
- Zorack, J.L. (1990). The lobbying handbook. Washington, D.C.