Hearing Update: Martin Not Directly Asked to Hold Off Vote

No House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee Asked Directly About Delaying Dec. 18 Media-Ownership Vote 12/05/2007 04:29:00 AM Eastern

No member of the House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee asked Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin directly if he would be willing to delay a Dec. 18 vote on relaxing the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules.

Kevin Martin

Various legislators, including House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.), said the FCC should hold off on that vote to allow for Congress and the public to better vet the proposal, which was unveiled Nov. 13.

"Postponing the planned vote from Dec. 18 would remove clouds of procedural objections that currently obscure the specifics of the proposal and hamper efforts to directly discuss them," Markey said. "The chairman’s plan would benefit from more time so that the public and the Congress can seek clarification over several provisions that remain ambiguous or vague with respect to their intent or operational effect.”

But Markey did not ask the chairman to hold off, and Martin in his statement and questioning made it clear that he thought the FCC had provided sufficient opportunity for comment on media-ownership issues and that loosening the ban was in the public interest.

Martin had some support from Subcommittee Republicans including former Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.). Even Markey pointed out that Martin's proposal did not include other deregulation of radio and TV proposed by his predecessor and said the proposal was worthy of consideration.

Martin did say that he would be willing to modify the language of the waiver portion of that proposal to make sure it was a high hurdle, rather than a speed bump or the "on ramp" to more consolidation that Democratic commissioner Michael Copps suggested it was.

Martin is proposing to allow newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership in the top 20 media markets, but only with stations not rated among the top four, and only if it left eight independent media voices (newspapers or broadcast stations) remaining.

Such combinations are not precluded in smaller markets, but the presumption is that they are not in the public interest. Such proposed combos would face a four-pronged test, but that is a change from the traditional waiver policy in which financial hardship had to be shown.

Commission Democrats complained that is an invitation to more consolidation, but Martin said he had meant it to be a high hurdle, and one that importantly included considering more local news as a factor. He added that he would be willing to work with the other commissioners to come up with a waiver definition that they agreed was such a hurdle.