FCC Chief Martin Trying to Fast-Track Revamp of Media Ownership Rules

Oct 17, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin is seeking to fast-track the agency’s long-running re-examination of media ownership rules. Two FCC commissioners today said he’s hoping to vote on any changes by Dec. 18, the agency’s last meeting of the year.
A commission official said setting a date for a vote is a “natural progression” of the ownership proceeding, but added the chairman is seeking a consensus on a schedule and the December date is not a deadline.
Reports of the move from commissioners Robert McDowell and Jonathan Adelstein, the latter speaking at a Senate Commerce Committee today, drew immediate concern from several senators, who have been pushing the FCC to delay issuing rules until after completion of a report on the impact of diminished local media ownership.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said they would hold a hearing on the push.
The FCC’s ownership rules play a key role in the United States, saying how many TV and radio stations one company can own in a market and whether one company can control both the local newspaper and broadcast stations in a market. The rules also can play a big role in determining whether minorities can get a share of broadcast station ownership.
The FCC began re-examining its media ownership rules 18 months ago, after an appellate court in 2004 threw out the broad rewrite of rules adopted under former FCC chairman Michael Powell.
Mr. Martin has proceeded cautiously thus far to avoid political and legal minefields. A three-judge panel threw out the FCC’s last rewrite, in part because the agency hadn’t gotten adequate public comment.
Mr. Martin announced six public hearings would be held, compared with only one held last time. He also promised legislators that the FCC would complete a separate look at the impact of local ownership on programming and community involvement before the FCC would proceed to adopt any new rules.
While five of the six public hearings have taken place, one more remains. In addition, Mr. Martin has yet to schedule a second promised hearing of the local ownership question. Then a report has to be written on results of the local ownership study. Legislators have called on the FCC to publish any proposed changes and give the public time to comment before voting.
The need for all four steps had led to expectations the FCC would conclude its proceeding next year. That schedule is still most likely, but the proposed schedule discussed today calls for a hearing on the local issues Oct. 31, a hearing on media ownership Nov. 2 and apparently publication of proposed new rules in mid-November.
An aide to Sen. Dorgan said the senator believes that timing is “frankly absurd,” offering little time to thoroughly examine the local ownership results or react to it, to prepare for making comments at the public hearings and for the public to examine and comment on the final rule before the FCC vote.
“The FCC tried to ram something through under [former chairman Michael] Powell and the result was the court overturned it,” he said. “You would think they would have learned something. This does not give enough time for the American people to weigh in.”

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