Deadlocked FCC Puts Ownership Deregulation Proceedings on Hold

Jul 14, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Unable to agree on how to proceed with the controversy over media ownership deregulation, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday put an indefinite hold on proposed proceedings to determine whether to relax the rules.

The FCC commissioners were scheduled to formally unveil a proposal Thursday seeking public comment on how to respond to a federal appeals court decision that overturned an effort by agency Republicans to loosen the rules last year. The U.S. Supreme Court in June refused to review the appellate court decision, kicking the issue back to the FCC.

Sources said the FCC-deadlocked with two Republicans and two Democrats-couldn’t resolve a number of key issues related to the proceedings, including how to respond to requests for public hearings on the controversy. The panel’s two Democrats-Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein-oppose deregulation, and they want Chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican, to commit to a series of public field hearings, independent research projects on the effects of deregulation and assurance that Mr. Martin won’t try to attack the individual regulations piecemeal.

Industry lobbyists have been urging the agency to attack the rules-particularly one that bars daily newspapers from buying broadcast stations in their markets-one at a time, on the theory that the rules are more vulnerable separately.

Sources said Mr. Martin, a proponent of deregulation, doesn’t want to tie his hands with procedural commitments now because the White House is expected to give him a Republican majority at the agency soon. With a third Republican vote at the agency, Mr. Martin won’t have to defer to the agency’s two Democrats, who currently have the power to hold him in check. “As long as Martin doesn’t have three votes, [FCC Democrats] have leverage,” said Andrew Schwartzman, president of the activist Media Access Project.

Also on Thursday, Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., introduced wide-ranging legislation that would bar broadcasters from owning TV stations reaching more than 25 percent of the nation’s TV households. The measure, among other things, would resurrect the fairness doctrine, a now-defunct regulation that formerly required broadcasters to cover both sides of controversial issues.

In addition, the bill would require TV stations to include independently produced programming on their schedules. Under a legislative compromise, the national cap on TV ownership is currently set at 39 percent of TV homes. “The current state of today’s media system threatens the ability of our democracy to function because it does not allow for the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources and shrinks the marketplace of ideas,” Rep. Hinchey said, in a statement.