After nearly 39 years, the Washington public interest law firm Media Access Project announced Tuesday it will suspend operations beginning in May because of funding shortfalls.
Describing the advocacy group as "principally foundation funded," MAP Senior Vice President and Policy Director Andrew Schwartzman said the closure is largely due to the impact of the economic downturn on already strained revenue sources.
"It's always been tough for the public interest community," Schwartzman, who has been with MAP since 1978, said in an interview. He added that "the foundation community hasn't really recovered" from the recession.
Over the years, MAP has worked closely with regulators like the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to ensure that smaller groups have the ability to voice their views in increasingly crowded media markets. In particular, Schwartzman pointed to the group's role in helping create low-power FM radio stations and its work to maintain FCC broadcast ownership regulations, a case in which "the odds were very much against us," he said.
Schwartzman said he worries that some of the more narrowly tailored causes championed by the organization will be ignored once MAP's voice is gone. He said that while the development of the Internet is under constant scrutiny by a variety of sources, no one outlet is fully engaged in MAP's more specific interests in the ownership of media outlets and the ability of the FCC to successfully enforce its regulations.
"I think MAP serves an important purpose – one that won't be fully filled," he said.
Gigi Sohn, president and CEO of D.C.-based consumer rights group Public Knowledge, released a statement lamenting MAP's decision to shutter its doors.
"Through the years, MAP has provided an invaluable voice for the public interest on a range of issues, including the public responsibility of broadcasters, to media ownership and, in more recent years, many of the most prominent policy disputes of the Internet age," Sohn said.
Aside from policy achievements, Schwartzman highlighted the number of public interest advocates MAP has trained throughout the years. Sohn, who previously worked for MAP for a decade, noted that there's a list of other Public Knowledge employees who also previously worked for MAP, including Legal Director Harold Feld and COO Brooke Rae-Hunter.