Consumer advocate Ralph Nader charged yesterday that a Federal Communications Commission proposal to deregulate the radio broadcasting industry would "further entrench federally protected monopolies for a few hundred corporations at the expense of 220 million Americans."
Nader, in remarks prepared for a joint press conference in Indianapolis yesterday with the National Organization for Women, accused FCC Chairman Charles Ferris of "blowing bubbles," with his statement that "market forces" were not strong enough to force the radio industry to regulate itself.
Nader called the FCC "one of the worst regulatory agencies in Washington," and added that under Ferris' two-year reign "we are seeing a collapse of morale in the agency and substantive regulations more typical of the Nixon administration."
He accused Ferris and the FCC of ignoring the numerous proposals submitted by consumer groups to the commission calling for improvements to the regulatory process.
"Instead of citizen-sensitive regulation, what we now see are proposals to throw the public's rights in broadcasting to the mercies of an illusory economic market place," Nader said.
Consumer groups expressed concern last week when the FCC unveiled its proposal to deregulate radio, pointing out that such deregulation could lead to an unlimited number of commercials and fewer public affairs programs.
At that time, and again yesterday, Ferris defended his agency's call for sweeping deregulation by first noting that it was only a proposal -- open to a full seven moths of public comment -- and second by pointing to the marked change in the radio industry since it first came under federal regulation 45 years ago.
The number of stations has grown to more than 8,600 from the less than 583 in 1934, when the Communications Act became a law. In order to survive in today's competitive marketplace, Ferris contended, radio stations now have to be responsive to public interests.
"We are not abandoning the public interest," Ferris said in an interview yesterday. "We are just seeking what mechanism should be used to see that the public interest is satisfied. We hope this proposal receives a lot of attention, and that we get the wildest array of comments possible. I have no prejudgment. I just think we should, rather than raise emotions, generate data on this issue."
Nader challenged Ferris to take the issue to the public. Ferris countered by saying that he is doing just that with a series of public meetings planned for several cities.