Media Ownership Battle Heating Up

Oct 28, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin’s moves to conclude a review of media ownership rules by year-end are raising congressional hackles and threatening to quickly revive a 4-year-old fight against easing ownership rules.
“We write to express our grave shock and dismay,” said one letter to Mr. Martin, signed by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and 42 other congressmen. “[W]e hope that you will immediately take steps to resolve significant shortcomings in your plan regarding accountability, transparency and scientific integrity.”
That letter was among a series condemning Mr. Martin or his schedule that came in rapid succession last week from House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich.; Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Trent Lott, R-Miss.; Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; and Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and John Kerry, D-Mass. Together the letters threaten to sour Mr. Martin’s relationship with Congress.
Most complained that the FCC ownership proceeding hadn’t examined some of the concerns in consolidation sufficiently to draw up rules. They also said the timetable would not give the public enough time to review and comment on any proposed action.
There were some specific warnings to Mr. Martin as well.
Sens. Dorgan and Lott, at a press conference, said they would seek a “resolution of disapproval” if the agency eased ownership rules without due consideration. If approved by the House and Senate, the resolution would overturn any rule FCC commissioners approved.
Four years ago the Senate voted to overturn the FCC’s attempt to ease ownership rules, but the House never voted. The rules eventually were overturned by an appellate court, which said the FCC had failed to gather sufficient input before drawing them.
Sen. Kerry, chairman of the Senate’s Small Business Committee, complained that the proposed schedule would allow the FCC little time to examine questions he’s raised about the impact of further consolidation on ownership of stations by women and minorities before the crafting of new rules takes place.
The senator was especially angry after Mr. Martin, with just a week’s ad­vance notice, scheduled a hearing for Oct. 31 to examine the impact loss of local ownership might have on station content and community involvement.
“The FCC can throw last-minute hearings on the calendar and pretend they are addressing localism, but the bottom line is: We will continue to push for a serious localism proceeding at the FCC,” Sen. Kerry said. “This shows they are not taking seriously the message from Congress that we must promote local content in our media ownership landscape. It’s going to take more than a meeting on Halloween afternoon to spook us from fighting for local media control.”
The fast push for concluding the media ownership overhaul also has drawn attention from the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, which said 2,100 e-mail messages from members had gone to Congress urging against any fast-tracking of ownership regulations.
FCC officials last week insisted the year-end deadline for the media ownership review was just a proposal from Mr. Martin. The timetable would require the FCC to hold a final hearing on media ownership, write a report on the impact of local ownership and issue proposed rules all by Nov. 13, with a December vote on the rules.

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)