In this article, I chronicle the uprising of 2003, when media policy absolutely exploded into the public consciousness as millions of Americans registered their opposition to the relaxation of long-standing media ownership rules. I concentrate on the first half of 2003, when the popular movement moved from the margins to the mainstream and put media reform activism in the public eye for the first time in generations. In some ways this event also provides a textbook case of corrupt policy making as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) majority, following standard operating procedure for that less-than-august body, acted reprehensibly in view of the public feedback it received. The Republican leadership in Congress was no better. I will emphasize the activities and arguments of FCC members Michael Powell and Michael Copps because they came to lead the respective sides and became the leading public faces of the media ownership debate. Important organizing work took place in previous years—centered around groups like Consumers Union, Media Access Project, and Center for Digital Democracy—and made what happened in 2003 possible. Once the struggle reached Congress in the summer of 2003, popular opposition to the relaxation of media ownership rules was already organized, and the outcome remained undetermined even into 2004.
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