Powell won’t cave on ownership

Jun 4, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission will continue to consider axing key broadcast ownership restrictions, even though Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., a longtime proponent of the regulations, is soon expected to assume the chairmanship of key Senate committees with FCC oversight.
At least that was the word from FCC Chairman Michael Powell last week.
“You just can’t honestly say that the media marketplace, with diversity produced by new media, doesn’t compel you to re-evaluate,” Mr. Powell said in an exclusive interview with Electronic Media.
In the wake of the recent shift in the balance of power in the Senate to Democrats, there was much speculation that Mr. Powell would slam the brakes on the ownership reviews, particularly because Sen. Hollings is expected to assume command of the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate appropriations subcommittee, which sets FCC funding levels.
Sen. Hollings has made no secret of his belief that the ownership regulations are needed as a check on the power of media companies.
As the chairman of those two committees, the senator can cause the agency major pain.
But Mr. Powell told Electronic
Media that the regulatory reviews are compelled in part by a directive in the law itself-the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
He also insisted that his views were based on his belief about what the law and sound policy considerations require.
“I certainly don’t strike out in a different direction just because of the change in the Senate,” Mr. Powell said, but added that changing the regulations would require “compelling explanation.”
Nonetheless, the FCC’s GOP chairman said he believed the regulations should also be scrutinized to determine whether they even achieve their original goals of spurring diversity of programming.
“A lot of these rules have just been passed on from time to time out of inertia,” he said. “Moreover, most of these rules are 30 years in the making, and I think that it is at some level just dangerously disingenuous if we don’t examine them in the context of the modern media marketplace,” he added.
One industry source said that the question of whether Mr. Powell will be able to stick to his guns will be determined by whether he can muster an agency majority and persuade the White House to fight for him.
“The bar has been raised? You betcha,” said Shaun Sheehan, who as vice president, Washington, for Tribune Co., has been leading the charge to ax the broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership prohibition. “I think we go forward. When? I don’t know.”