Substantial grass-roots resistance to the Federal Communications Commission's plans to relax or eliminate several major media ownership rules has been building in recent weeks, turning a number-crunching bureaucratic process into a growing debate on free speech.
On June 2, the five-member commission is scheduled to vote on changes that would allow broadcast networks to buy more television stations and would lift the 28-year-old ban preventing newspapers from buying television stations in the same city.
Hundreds of thousands of e-mails and postcards are urging the FCC to put off a decision.
Those who favor relaxing and lifting the rules -- mainly, media corporations and the FCC's three Republican members -- say the regulations are no longer legally enforceable and have been made obsolete by the explosion of cable television channels and Web sites, which provide consumers with more sources of information than when the ownership rules were crafted years ago.
On the other side are the two Democratic commissioners, Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein, several public-interest groups and organizations that say what is at stake is nothing less than the health of the democracy. More consolidation, they say, will lead to fewer voices, making it difficult for minority viewpoints to be heard. Unexpected alliances have formed between liberal and conservative groups, opposing further deregulation.
In recent days, the FCC has been inundated with hundreds of thousands of e-mails and e-petitions. MoveOn.org, a public-interest organization founded by two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, says it has collected 170,000 signatures on a petition to the FCC, urging the agency to keep the rules in place.
The current Bush administration agenda at the FCC, led by Colin Powell's son Michael, is so threatening to free speech that it is making strange bedfellows of those in opposition to it. How many other efforts unite Common Cause and the National Rifle Association against proposed policy?
Go to Move On's Stop the FCC page (also in the green box at the top of this column), where you can spend half a minute sending an email message to the FCC.