Editorial: FCC’s Martin Needs Lesson in Transparency

Dec 9, 2007  •  Post A Comment

It may seem early to start writing a bureaucratic obituary for Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin, given he has at a minimum a year left to serve. But recent weeks have provided fresh evidence that Mr. Martin, while perhaps well-intentioned, still isn’t effective in pulling the levers of power in Washington.
Mr. Martin needs to slow down and make the operations of the FCC more transparent. If he doesn’t adopt better tactics, history is unlikely to treat him well.
Perhaps the prospect of the Democrats taking the White House in November 2008 is driving Mr. Martin, a Republican appointee, to push his apparent policy goals: easing limits on media consolidation, regulating the cable industry more heavily and fighting smut on TV. But haste has made waste for Mr. Martin.
Citing “breakdowns” at the agency, a House panel is investigating the FCC after complaints by commissioners—including Republicans. Mr. Martin’s colleagues have decried his lack of disclosure regarding agenda items and his apparent cherry-picking of data to drive policy decisions.
Lack of transparency also was a theme at a House hearing last week, when Rep. Jay Inslee, a Democrat from the state of Washington, accused Mr. Martin of rushing public comments. Rep. Inslee cited a particularly egregious case in which a public hearing on media ownership in Washington was essentially mooted because Mr. Martin already had promulgated the proposal that was supposed to be the subject of the hearing.
Mr. Martin needs to learn that the lack of transparency that spurred those complaints predisposes others in Washington to oppose his policies. That opposition last week took the form of action in the Senate meant to put the brakes on his plan to loosen media ownership restrictions.
A Senate committee approved legislation (co-sponsored by Republican Trent Lott of Mississippi) that would delay by six months a planned Dec. 18 vote at the FCC on a proposal that would allow companies to own both TV stations and newspapers in the 20 biggest U.S. markets. While that bill is unlikely to pass in time, it sends a strong signal to Mr. Martin that he will face significant opposition on Capitol Hill should the FCC approve the cross-ownership plan.
Mr. Martin should consider holding off on the Dec. 18 vote until he can assure Congress and his colleagues at the FCC that the process by which the proposal was generated was fair and transparent. While he will still face opposition on policy grounds, he might mute critics who take exception to his tactics.


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