Editorial: Don’t Rush Rule Rewrite

Oct 21, 2007  •  Post A Comment

We have editorialized consistently against the continued consolidation of media, arguing the importance of having more voices and not having the media industry controlled by fewer and fewer companies.
The issue was in the news again last week when Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin put forth a plan to relax the media ownership rules, including the cross-ownership prohibition against one company owning myriad media outlets in the same city.
What has particularly raised the ire of one Democrat on the FCC, Michael J. Copps, is Mr. Martin’s bold plan to get the relaxation of the rules passed by December. Mr. Copps told the New York Times that time frame is far too short a period for, among other things, the public to seriously consider Mr. Martin’s plan.
We agree. A rush to judgment on an issue this crucial is a mistake.
The last time the FCC visited this subject, in 2004 under then Chairman Michael Powell, it was besieged with millions of comments opposing the changes, and the new rules were struck down by an appeals court. Comparing Mr. Martin’s planned short period of debate to what happened then, Mr. Copps said, “I fear it is deja vu all over again.”
The other Democrat on the FCC, Jonathan Adelstein, who is more likely to support relaxation of the media ownership rules, told the New York Times Mr. Martin’s two-month time frame was “awfully aggressive.”
What Mr. Martin needs to do is set a timetable that doesn’t smack of political expediency.
Shield Law a Necessity
In a landmark vote last week, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a federal shield law for reporters. President Bush is against the proposed law. The administration released a statement saying the legislation “could severely frustrate, and in some cases completely eviscerate,” investigation of terrorism and national security issues.
We disagree. The proposed law says judges can order the media to disclose information when a “preponderance” of evidence means it’s more likely the disclosure would “prevent an act of terrorism.”
One common misunderstanding about shield laws, as was pointed out by Matthew Eisley last week in the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer, is that they are not really about helping the media. They are about making sure the public can be freely informed.
Citing an appeals court ruling from 2000, Mr. Eisley said the court wrote, “If reporters were routinely required to divulge the identity of their sources, the free flow of newsworthy information would be restrained, and the public’s understanding of important issues and events would be hampered in ways inconsistent with a healthy republic.” We urge President Bush to rethink his opposition to this much-needed federal shield law.


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