Dorgan on Cross-Ownership Proposal: ‘Smaller Step in Wrong Direction’
Senator Exploring All Options to Block FCC’s Dec. 18 Media-Ownership Vote
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/16/2007 10:43:00 AM
"[Federal Communications Commission] chairman Michael Powell was going to take a giant step in the wrong direction. Chairman [Kevin] Martin wants to take a smaller step in the wrong direction. But so what? It's the wrong direction."
That was Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who has been leading the opposition to Martin's proposal of a partial lifting of the ban on broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership, describing that proposal during an episode of C-SPAN's The Communicators.
Martin has called his proposal more moderate than the FCC's proposed 2003 deregulatory rule rewrite -- a hard observation to argue with, and Dorgan doesn’t, since it does not include either relaxation of radio- or TV-duopoly rules, as had been proposed in 2003, and it is not a wholesale lifting of the ban.
When asked what the "fine points" of his proposed Media Ownership Act of 2007 were, Dorgan essentially conceded that it was more of a blunt instrument. "That's just trying to block what the chairman is doing at the moment by saying, ‘You can't decide you are going to announce a new rule in November and drive it to a conclusion Dec. 18. That’s not fair.’"
Dorgan added that he would try other ways in addition to his bill to block Martin, which could include a resolution to disapprove the rule if it is passed -- a procedural rule that would essentially invalidate the rule if it passes -- although Dorgan is hoping it doesn’t get that far.
"The chairman is not wise to try to jam this thing down the throats of the American people at this point," he said, adding that he did not "disrespect" Martin.
Dorgan's bill, the Media Ownership Act, which was introduced and referred to committee, has the backing of Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), John Kerry (D-Mass.) and others, and it would require the FCC to complete separate inquiries on localism and public-interest obligations and give the public 90 days to comment before taking any action on ownership, like Martin's cross-ownership proposal.
As he has in numerous venues, Dorgan decried voice tracking and homogenized programming that he said were the result of consolidation.
Dorgan said Martin makes his cross-ownership proposal "sound very nice," but Dorgan is an absolutist on the issue. "There is no case to be made for more concentration in the media," he added.
Dorgan called the arguments for more ownership flexibility by National Association of Broadcasters president David Rehr -- that it would free up money for news investment -- "counterintuitive."
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