Incoming Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said he’s not ready to spell out the details of his legislative agenda on indecency or any of the other major media industry issues that his committee is charged with overseeing.
But industry sources said his plate will soon be filled with hot potatoes, including the campaign to crack down on off-color programming-he has been quoted as saying the country’s moral fabric is at stake-and increasingly heated calls to force broadcasters to make the switch to digital TV as soon as 2006.
Sen. Stevens assumed the Commerce Committee chairmanship this month. As a veteran of the committee, he is no stranger to the media. Among other things, he is credited with delivering the compromise between the major TV networks and their affiliates last year that set the national media ownership cap at 39 percent of the nation’s TV households.
Before he joined the Senate in 1968 he represented many of Alaska’s broadcasters and publishers as a lawyer in private practice, writing the articles of incorporation for the Alaska Broadcasters Association.
“He had his hand in communications here going way back,” said Augie Hiebert, former president of Northern Television, an Alaska broadcaster that Sen. Stevens once represented.
When pitching Sen. Stevens on a media-related issue, industry lobbyists said, it’s important to explain the issue’s impact on Alaska, a largely rural state where marketplace forces have failed to meet some basic needs for many of its citizens. “The people sent me down here to represent them,” Sen. Stevens said. “I didn’t come down here to represent the nation. I’m not running for president.”
On a personal level, the senator said he is hardly a major consumer of TV programming. Indeed, when he turns on his TV set, it’s often to monitor a weather forecast.
Industry sources said Sen. Stevens’ ascendancy to the chairmanship is expected to herald an especially productive era, because he and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, are both World War II veterans and close personal friends.
“For all practical purposes, one will be chairman and the other will be co-chairman,” said Jim Quello, a former Democratic commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission. “This is the ultimate in bipartisanship.”