FCC Schedules Media Ownership Hearing, Lawmakers Threaten Veto
The Federal Communications Commission is abruptly scheduling one of the final hearings necessary to complete its media ownership review for next week. The move is a strong indication that Chairman Kevin J. Martin will move ahead with his aggressive timetable to complete the review by year end despite objections from Congress and Democratic commissioners.
The FCC announced Wednesday night that the hearing, intended to examine the impact on programming and community involvement when local stations lose local ownership, will be held Oct. 31 as part of an FCC commission meeting that day.
The announcement came on the same day Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., warned Mr. Martin against rushing to complete the media ownership review before finishing a thorough examination of some of the issues involved in changing FCC media rules. They specifically cited worries about the impact of loss of local ownership of stations on programming and community involvement.
The senators warned that if the FCC proceeded to ease ownership rules without a proper study of its full impact, they were ready to offer a “resolution of disapproval” that would overturn any FCC rules.
Four years ago when the FCC, under then chairman Michael J. Powell, moved to ease media ownership rules, the Senate approved a resolution of disapproval sponsored by the two senators. Republican leaders in the House blocked a House vote and the rules were set aside only because an appellate court eventually overturned them. The court said the FCC hadn’t done an adequate job of examining the impact of the changes on the public or of getting public comment.
The FCC has been reviewing media ownership rules for 18 months and has conducted five public hearings on ownership and one on the local ownership issues. It is under pressure from some media companies to rewrite rules barring newspapers and broadcasters from buying each other in a market as well as rules that prevent broadcasters in medium and smaller markets from owning more than one TV station in the market.
To finish its review by year end, the FCC has to hold one more hearing on local issues, write a report on its findings from the hearings and hold a last public hearing on media ownership. A tentative timetable outlined by Mr. Martin called for all that to be accomplished by early November and proposed rules published Nov. 13 with a vote on them in December, after a month of public comment.
Last night Democratic commissioners Michael J. Copps and Jonathan Adelstein lambasted the quick scheduling of the hearing on local issues, saying it “doesn’t bode well” for a thorough resolution of the issues in media ownership.
“Over two weeks ago, we agreed to clear our calendars for the possibility of a localism hearing in Washington on Oct. 31. But neither we nor the public received any confirmation that the hearing would occur until tonight—just five business days before the event. This is unacceptable and unfair to the public. And it makes putting together an expert panel nearly impossible,” they said in a statement.
“Is the commission serious about allowing the public to participate in the agency’s decision-making? Or is the goal to be able to claim that hearings have been held, even if the public has not had a chance to fully participate?”