Consumer Groups State Their Case vs. Dec. 18 Vote

Free Press, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union File Comments with Federal Communications Commission

And the hits just keep on coming.

Saying that it was filing under protest and calling Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin's effort to vote on media-ownership rules Dec. 18 a "Post-It Note conclusion to one of the most complex, controversial and important public policies the commission has made in many years," anti-consolidation allies Free Press, the Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union filed comments with the FCC.

Martin published his proposal to loosen the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules in a Nov. 13 op-ed in The New York Times, saying that the public could comment until Dec. 11 and a vote could be held Dec. 18.

But the commenters said the FCC “should offer a further notice that explains, defines and defends its new rule in a cogent and intellectually consistent manner. Only then can such a rule be expected to win the confidence of the public and stand the tests of time and judicial scrutiny.”

The groups made it clear that their consolidation opposition was not confined to this proposal. Saying that it has seen the commission try to loosen the rules in a variety of ways over its "many years," it has "yet to see a proposal that was even remotely in the public interest and opened to a transparent process for full public deliberation and scrutiny. Instead, we have seen the commission pursue an ends-oriented process with predetermined conclusions that paper over empirical problems and policy inconsistencies with creative disregard for the facts in the record."

The groups complained that "nowhere in the record does any commenter ever request, recommend, or propose anything like what the chairman has offered."

Martin proposed to loosen the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban in the top 20 markets for stations rated below the top four and so long as eight independent voices -- including daily newspapers -- remained after the combination.

They also said the proposal was vague and needed a more formal and detailed presentation, then vetting by the public, before any vote. The chairman has said commenters have had plenty of opportunity to weigh in on the ban and allowing comment at each stage of the process would unduly delay it.