FCC’s Martin Grilled by Congressmen

Dec 5, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The chairman of a Congressional panel capped a five-hour hearing that grilled Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin with a plea: Delay a planned vote on media-ownership rules.
U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, chairman of the telecom panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, however, didn’t signal he was in favor of forcing the FCC to delay. The Senate Commerce Committee yesterday recommended a bill that would stop Mr. Martin’s media-ownership proposal for six months.
Mr. Markey’s comments came at the close of a hearing of his panel, where several House members—including powerful House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell—aggressively questioned Mr. Martin on his stewardship of the FCC.
They suggested Mr. Martin has ignored administrative rules, issued dubious studies and kept essential data away from other commissioners in pursuit of his policy agenda.
Among the trespasses pointed out by the panel, Mr. Martin was pilloried for writing an op-ed column describing in detail his proposed ownership changes just hours before the FCC held a Seattle public hearing on those items.
That tactic essentially mooted the participation of the public, said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash.
“The ultimate repository of wisdom is the people,” Mr. Inslee said., calling on Mr. Martin to apologize to the 1,000 attendees who came to the Seattle hearing and stayed to 1 a.m., only to learn later that the chairman already had made up his mine.
“What happened here is an ultimate disgrace to the people,” Mr. Inslee said.
Mr. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, cited “sniping” among FCC commissioners and procedural problems as evidence the FCC is “broken.” He warned that the committee would not allow the breakdowns to continue.
“Agency proceedings should not be used to pursue personal agendas,” he said.
The panel also criticized Mr. Martin for failing to address declining minority ownership of broadcast media before pursuing ownership changes.
For Mr. Martin, who denied the FCC has committed any procedural errors, the hearing offered good and bad news.
Mr. Markey’s unwillingness to act to stop the FCC from voting would appear to mean the commission will finally conclude its media-ownership proceedings with a Dec. 18 vote. On the docket: A rule that will allow newspapers and broadcasters to buy each other, at least in larger markets.
The bad news is that Mr. Dingell has already announced an inquiry into the FCC and Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who heads the Energy and Commerce’s Oversight and Investigations panel—and will lead the inquiry—repeatedly questioned Mr. Martin’s choices in the ownership fight.
Mr. Stupak accused Mr. Martin of offering dubious reports and using questionable procedures to get changes. Mr. Stupak promised to further question Mr. Martin in later hearings.
Mr. Martin’s media-ownership rule proposes that the FCC generally let newspapers and broadcasters buy each other in the two 20 markets, with a proviso that would keep newspapers from being able to buy any of the top four TV or radio stations.
In other markets, the FCC would generally lean against cross ownership. Mr. Martin said today that the FCC might allow combinations in smaller markets which result in the public getting additional news.
(Editor: Baumann)

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