FCC Places Hold on Deregulation Discussion

Jul 18, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Unable to agree on how to proceed with the controversy over media ownership deregulation, the Federal Communications Commission last Thursday put an indefinite hold on discussing the relaxation of rules.

The FCC commissioners had been scheduled to formally unveil a proposal 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. But the FCC-deadlocked with two Republicans and two Democrats-couldn’t resolve a number of key issues, including how to respond to requests for public hearings on the controversy, sources said.

The FCC’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 and independent research projects on the effects of deregulation and provide assurance that Mr. Martin won’t attack individual regulations..

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.

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, sources said. 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 legislation that would bar broadcasters from owning TV stations reaching more than 25 percent of the nation’s TV households. The ownership cap for TV stations is currently 39 percent of TV homes.

The measure, would also 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.