The screenwriters' strike continues to grab headlines, right alongside big news stories like the military crackdown in Pakistan, the diplomatic letdown in Annapolis and the economic meltdown on Wall Street.

As the strike enters its fourth week, popular television programs like The Daily Show, Desperate Housewives and 24, among others, have closed shop.

Press coverage of the strike invariably frames the labor dispute in rather dire terms: apart from the financial implications a prolonged strike will have for writers and the film and TV studios alike, the American public will suffer the consequences of a television season littered with reruns and "reality" programming should the strike drag on for months.

These news stories reveal a great deal about the blind spots and blackouts that are common in U.S. press coverage of media and culture. Indeed, the sheer amount of coverage the writers' strike receives stands in stark contrast to another media-related news story - a blockbuster, in fact - that barely receives mention, let alone headlines.

I'm speaking of the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) proposed rule change to media ownership regulations.


FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has made quite clear his intention to gut the few remaining regulations that prevent media corporations from further consolidating their holdings across the country.

He has also set his sights on the long-standing prohibition against broadcast/newspaper cross-ownership in the same market.

Martin's fellow Republicans, Commissioners Deborah Tate and Robert McDowell, are in favor of "relaxing" ownership restrictions. Democratic commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adlestein are vehemently opposed.


Significantly, the partisanship that characterizes the media ownership debate at the FCC is nowhere to be found, either in the halls of Congress or among the American people.

Bipartisan support is growing for legislation - the Media Ownership Act of 2007 - that would put the brakes on Martin's plan to allow further media consolidation. What's more, a broad coalition of concerned citizens, from across the political spectrum, have voiced their opposition to Martin's plan.

To his credit, Martin did seek some, albeit limited, public comment on the FCC's ownership deliberations. But like his predecessor, former FCC chairman Michael Powell, Martin displayed a rather transparent contempt for public opinion.

Despite an overwhelming majority of Americans who spoke out against media consolidation - and instead demanded the FCC do more to promote the public interest, enhance media diversity and preserve localism - Martin has put his plan to gut ownership restrictions on the "fast track."


Martin's intransigence in the face of growing popular opposition to media consolidation has set the stage for a showdown in the U.S. Congress over communication policy that may well shape the American media landscape for generations to come.

And yet, despite the high stakes political maneuvering between federal regulators, industry lobbyists and citizen groups over the FCC's proposed rule change to media ownership regulations, the U.S. news media refuses to cover this issue in any depth.

Surely bipartisan support in Congress on any issue is newsworthy. Instead, it's business as usual in the nation's newsrooms. What little press coverage there is of this debate is found in the business sections of the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Failure to cover this issue, at length and in-depth, is, at best, a blind spot for the U.S. press. At worst, it is a deliberate media blackout designed to keep the American people in the dark, and out of the loop, when it comes to crucial public policy decisions.


No doubt the stakes are high for writers, producers and the studios. Without minimizing the importance of this dispute, the simple truth is that, at the end of the day, the various parties will eventually settle their differences. After all, soap operas, feature films, TV talk shows and night-time dramas all share one thing in common: they all start with words on a page.

But in the scheme of things, the writers' strike is small potatoes compared with the consequences that further media consolidation will have on American media, society and culture.

Today, a handful of conglomerates control most of the news, information and cultural programming that Americans read, see and hear. Big media is on the march, while local, independent media is on the run.

In a rapidly changing media environment, vigorous reporting of communication policy debates, such as media ownership, is the first step toward ensuring a more diverse, accountable and responsible media system for us all.

Kevin Howley isan associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He can be reached at .