Incoming House Committee Chairman Questions Easing of Ownership Rules

Nov 8, 2006  •  Post A Comment

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the incoming chairman of a key House committee, on Wednesday strongly questioned any further easing of media ownership rules, suggesting that his panel will offer more scrutiny of telecom measures than the committee has under Republicans.

Rep. Dingell, who will become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in January as a result of Democrats taking control of the House, also questioned whether the Federal Communications Commission was examining media ownership issues sufficiently to ensure the public interest is being served.

“The committee [under Republicans] has been very responsive to industry desires to reduce or eliminate controls on ownership and [not] to maintain the diversity and localism which is so important,” he said, in a reference an aide said later was to the FCC. “They have not completed all the outrages they are going to do under existing law. We are going to have to take a careful look and see whether [media ownership changes are] justified and whether we are still having local service or not.”

He said his view is that local service is decreasing.

“News and other things which are important to me are no longer being provided, and we are having a bunch of stations providing common service and no difference in service available to the people. The only beneficiary of that is the station owner as opposed to the public, which is supposed to be served by the communications act,” he said.

Rep. Dingell said that his committee intends to look at other potential media-related issues, from prescription drug advertising to privacy, will oppose any attempt to include a “sunset” provision on support of public broadcasting and urged the FCC to delay approval of a major phone deal between BellSouth and AT&T until Congress has time to review it.

Rep. Dingell was the first of four Democrats who will hold key House leadership positions next year to speak out on their agendas. The other three are Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who becomes chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s telecommunications subcommittee; Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who will be chairman of the House Government Reform Committee; and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who will become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

All have outlooks on media issues starkly different from those of the current chairmen and are likely to have the support of House Democratic leadership for examining media issues.