Senators Want FCC to Slow Down on Media-Ownership Rules

Tell Chairman Martin That Timetable for New Guidelines Risks Another Setback

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin's proposal to conclude the agency's review of media-ownership rules and issue new rules by year's end is under fire from two senators as well as public-interest groups.
Kevin Martin
Kevin Martin Credit: Jim Ruymen

FCC officials confirmed that Mr. Martin had proposed a timetable for consideration that would detail changes by Nov. 13, but denied a report that any specific changes were already under consideration.

Not enough time
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., warned about the timetable, saying it wouldn't give adequate time for the FCC to complete and examine the results of its own ongoing study about the effect on station programming and commitment of losing local ownership.

"We do not believe the commission had adequately studied the impact of media consolidation on local programming," the senators said in a letter to Mr. Martin today. "We firmly believe that the FCC must first establish that there are sufficient mechanisms in place to ensure that broadcasters are serving their local communities before considering any changes that would relax the existing rules governing media ownership."

The senators instead told the FCC to implement a slower timetable that would put any rule changes off until the FCC has completed the local ownership study, and to provide 90 days for people to comment on the study.

Court throws out earlier changes
The FCC is re-examining media ownership rules in the wake of a 2004 appellate court ruling that tossed out rules adopted under former Chairman Michael Powell. The rules determine how many stations a company can own in a market, and whether one company can own both a local newspaper and local TV stations; therules also can have an impact on minority ownership of broadcast stations.

The appellate court rejected the last attempt to rewrite the rules, saying the FCC hadn't adequately sought public comment in developing them.

The senators today warned Mr. Martin that the push forward could indicate the agency was headed down the same road.

"The FCC should not rush forward and repeat mistakes of the past," they said, warning that the agency's "dubious track record makes it all the more imperative the FCC conducts a transparent and judicious process."

Andy Schwartzman, director of the Media Access Project, the public-interest law firm that won the last appeal, echoed those sentiments.

"Proposing rules in mid-November, accepting comments in early December and voting on Dec. 18 certainly gives rise to a sense of deja vu," Mr. Schwartzman said.
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