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Martin Says He’s Re-Examining Media Ownership Issues

Sep 12, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin raised some doubts Tuesday about whether the FCC’s media ownership proceedings would lead to as expansive a rewriting of ownership rules as were produced by his predecessor, Michael Powell.

Mr. Martin told members of the Senate Commerce Committee during his confirmation hearing that while he voted to support dramatic changes that were eventually overturned by an appeals court, he had concerns about their extent.

“Did it make me uncomfortable then? I wouldn’t say no. Does it give me pause on what we should be doing? Sure,” said Mr. Martin of the rules that would have allowed a single media company to own the local daily newspaper, three TV stations, eight radio stations and the cable franchise in a single market.

He said that the concerns have prompted him to have “an open mind” and conduct an extensive re-examination of the issues as the FCC again reviews its ownership rules. The FCC has scheduled its first public hearing on ownership issues next month in Los Angeles and has promised others will be scheduled later.

The Senate committee moved to recommend Mr. Martin’s confirmation to a second five-year term as FCC chairman and commissioner. No vote was taken today, but the committee is expected to vote informally to confirm the appointment, with full Senate action to follow before Congress adjourns in October.

At the hearing Martin was pressed hard by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., about media issues and pressed by senators from both camps on net neutrality issues.

Sen. Boxer unveiled an unreleased 2004 FCC staff report she said raised major doubts about whether consolidation hurt consumers and questioned whether the FCC officials “deep-sixed” it because its conclusion conflicted with the agency’s stance favoring greater ownership consolidation. She said the report showed local ownership means 5½ more minutes of local news and more than three minutes of on-location news in each station’s newscasts.

“I think there is work that is already done that has been stifled,” she said. Martin noted the report had been prepared before he became chairman and said he hadn’t previously seen it.

Under questioning from Republicans, Mr. Martin said he won’t seek a vote on requiring the cable industry to carry broadcasters’ digital multicast signals because despite his own support, he doesn’t have the votes.