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Hollywood Unions Tell It to the FCC

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Leaders of the Hollywood unions decried media consolidation before all five FCC Commissioners and hundreds of L.A. citizens at the Commission's first public hearing at the University of Southern California yesterday afternoon, which continued with an evening session at El Segundo High School. The FCC held the hearings in order to amass public opinion before revisiting - and possibly canceling - federal restrictions on how many media outlets may be owned by a single company.

The heads of the performers' unions appeared on a panel following impassioned speeches advocating more local, independent news outlets from Congresswomen Maxine Waters and Diane Watson (D-L.A.), and Rev. Jessie Jackson. SAG National President Alan Rosenberg, SAG 1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson, and AFTRA National President John Connolly were joined on the panel by Steven Cannell, member of the Caucus of Television Producers, Writers, and Directors; Directors Guild of America 3rd VP and PAC Chair Taylor Hackford; Writers Guild of America, East Executive Director Mona Mangan; WGAW President Patric Verrone; and Marshall Herskovitz, president of the Producers Guild of America. Brandon Burgess, CEO of Ion Media, and REM's bassist Mike Mills also participated alongside the artists' reps. In a surprise appearance, Tim Winter, executive director of the conservative watchdog group the Parents Television Council, spoke out against media consolidation beside his traditional Hollywood rivals on the panel as well.

After a brief introduction by Rosenberg, Johnson addressed the Commissioners and the standing-room only crowd, supporting of the prevailing view that the consolidation of conglomerations, movie studios, and networks has all but made independently produced primetime programming extinct. She agreed with Cannell and Hackford that the FCC should require 25 percent of all primetime network programming be provided by independent producers.

"As actors we were lucky if we were hired by one of television's most acclaimed independent producers. However, the days of an independent producer taking his or her creative vision....to completion is a thing of the past," said Johnson, who defined herself as primarily a "television actor." "The casting decisions are now made by the networks, and not just for the marquee stars. Big media companies now cast almost every actor because they can."

Johnson said the media consolidation also puts actors at a drastic disadvantage when individually bargaining the personal service agreements that stipulate salaries -- a disadvantage Johnson said she has personally encountered. "There's no such thing as getting your quote anymore....The networks decide what the top show rates are in a parallel practice," she said, adding that a network once agreed to pay her only 50 percent of the going rate. "This is salary compression and it cripples the middle-class actor's ability to make a living."

Connolly, whose numerous appearances before the FCC have made him the face of performers' and broadcasters' opposition to media consolidation, said AFTRA members are concerned about the issue not only as media professionals, but as U.S. citizens. "We are proud to understand and believe that our interests in this discussion are not distinct from the interests of the American people....The airwaves belong to the American people and we believe it's time to take it back," he said followed by thunderous applause and chanting throughout the room.

Connolly added that he and his supporters do not represent "the Hollywood of people who are all rich, and all elite, and all effete. That is not Hollywood, any more than it is New York. The people we represent....represent the quarter of a million working people -- middle-class working people -- who work in this industry."

Four recording artists and AFTRA members testified about their own struggles in the era of consolidated media when the Commissioners opened the floor to public comments. During his two-minute testimony, SAG Ethnic Employment Opportunities Member Mark Reed, also challenged the print, TV, and radio reporters in the room to broadcast the proceedings.

The Commissioner later heard testimony during the second session at El Segundo High School from SAG EEOC Committee National Chair Sumi Haru, SAG National Spanish Language Task Force Chair Hernán de Béky, and Gretchen Koerner, SAG national legislative committee chair and Hollywood board member.

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