NASHVILLE, Tenn. — “We gather here with a goal — to protect this country’s democracy by ensuring that many independent, credible voices are heard on our nation’s airwaves and in the press,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigative journalist Carolyn Tuft told a Federal Communications Commission hearing on media deregulation here Dec. 11.

Also testifying was singer Naomi Judd, who urged the FCC to “hear the voice of public interests, not special interests.” Country legend Porter Wagner labeled the multinational corporations that own the airwaves “broadcasting dynasties.”

They were among more than 500 unionists, community leaders, students and other concerned citizens who attended the hearing.

Tuft, a 14-year Post-Dispatch veteran, told the World she had traveled to Nashville with a half-dozen other St. Louis Newspaper Guild members (including this reporter) because we have to “stop the media conglomerates from stripping our country of more media outlets, further eroding the checks and balances that a strong free press provides the public and our democracy.”

The trip was especially important to the St. Louis Guild members, who have seen the effects of FCC deregulation first hand.

Earlier this year, Lee Enterprises purchased the Post-Dispatch, along with 13 other Midwest daily newspapers and 32 local Suburban Journals, for about $1.5 billion.

“Since Lee swallowed the Post, nearly 50 journalists have marched out the door, taking early retirements,” Tuft said. “With them went more talent and knowledge than I fear will ever be regained.” Tuft is the only remaining full-time investigative journalist at the Post.

According to the Guild, over 44,000 media-related jobs have been lost nationally since 2001 — 34,000 at newspapers alone — partly because of deregulation.

Lee Enterprises is now one of the largest media chains in the country, competing with McClatchy, Gannett and the Tribune corporations. All, including Lee, are anti-union.

Wendell Rawls, former reporter for The Tennessean, owned by Gannett, told the FCC, “This is really a discussion about money. This is all about greed, pure and simple.” Citing the Constitution’s First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of the press, Rawls said, “That protection was not provided to guarantee profits. It was provided to guarantee access to information.” He criticized the FCC for caving in to media lobbyists “that wine and dine you.”

Currently, the FCC allows a single company to own 38.5 percent of any market. Proposed new regulations would allow one company to own 45 percent in any market, and would allow one company to own radio and television stations and newspapers within the same market.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) told the hearing that deregulation would limit the number and diversity of voices. “Preserving a diverse spectrum of media voices is important to Nashville, and it’s essential for a healthy democracy,” he said. Harold Bradley, American Federation of Musicians international vice president, charged, “The public owns the airwaves, but corporations are the gatekeepers. They determine what we see and hear.”

By contrast, Ginny Welsh from Radio Free Nashville noted that since April her station has trained over 130 community programmers who provide “local voices and diverse programming that commercial radio broadcasters leave out.”

The FCC has scheduled more public hearings, but hasn’t released the locations yet.

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