Indecency likely to remain FCC priority

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Expect indecency in media to remain a hot issue under new Federal Communications Commissioner Kevin J. Martin, and ending media cross-ownership rules to leap to the top of the FCC agenda.

The successor to Michael J. Powell has been a strong backer of FCC obscenity action, prompting some conservative groups to praise the appointment, hoping it signals more FCC scrutiny. "The [Parents Television Council] has strongly supported Kevin Martin as chairman of the FCC because he is a stalwart leader on the issue of indecency, and we are confident he will make a superb chairman," said L. Brent Bozell, president of the conservative group.

Mr. Martin, 38, wasn't commenting on his agenda for the FCC last week. But analysts weren't certain whether the appointment would intensify the FCC's scrutiny of indecency. "It will not be that big a change," said Chris Stern, an analyst with Medley Global Advisers. "Powell wasn't a supporter at first, but then he took cues from Congress and started ramping up [FCC enforcement]."

THE BIGGEST TASK

"Powell in 2005 was where Martin was in 2001 on obscenity," said Blair Levin, an analyst with Legg Mason and a former FCC official. He predicted that unless Congress acts to impose obscenity rules on cable, the biggest predictor of the direction of future obscenity cases will be an upcoming court decision on challenges to the FCC's obscenity fines.

The biggest task for Mr. Martin, who analysts note has strongly supported elimination of the media cross-ownership rule, will be to rewrite the commission's broadcast-ownership rules. That task was made necessary after an appellate court overturned Mr. Powell's broad rewrite attempt. Broadcasters have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case.

Both analysts pointed to style differences, rather than policy differences, as key to upcoming changes at the FCC. Mr. Powell went about his rewrite in a way that infuriated Democratic commissioners and made it more difficult to win any consensus on media consolidation. Analysts credit Mr. Martin for being more willing to negotiate. "Martin has an ability to bring in colleagues and [he] may be able to get things done that Powell could only dream about," said Mr. Stern. "He has solid relationships with the Democrats."

Meanwhile, Common Cause has urged Mr. Martin to ensure that the public's concerns about media get a full and serious hearing at the FCC. "For too long, the public has played second fiddle to industry concerns at this agency, whose chairman displayed little patience with the notion that the opinions of average Americans counted in making media policy," the group said in a statement.

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