While reserving judgment on the substance of Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin's proposed loosening of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban, House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) said he wants Martin to extend that public-comment period.
In a letter to Martin (see below), Dingell commended him for putting his proposal out for public appraisal, saying: "This action moves the process forward and, unlike 2003, affords interested parties an opportunity to comment formally."
But he added that he has "serious concerns that the timeline you have set forth is insufficient." Martin gave the public about four weeks to weigh in on his proposal to lift the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership in the top 20 markets for stations below the top-four-rated, with the comment period closing Dec. 11 and a vote planned for Dec. 18.
Critics of the timetable, including several Senate Democrats, have called for a 90-day comment period, as well as a separate proceeding on localism and diversity with its own 90-day comment period.
Dingell made no mention of wanting a separate proceeding, but he did say that he would be asking questions at a hearing on the issue next month in his telecommunications subcommittee.
Adding his voice to Dingell's cautionary note was the chairman of that subcommittee, Ed Markey (D-Mass.). “Chairman Martin’s media-ownership proposal deserves the utmost scrutiny," he said in a statement. "Localism, diversity and competition are critical values in our national media policy. I urge chairman Martin to ensure that the Congress and the public have an ample opportunity to review and comment on how any changes to FCC media-ownership rules may affect these vital public policy objectives.”
Dingell’s letter to Martin follows:
The Honorable Kevin J. Martin
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20445
Dear Chairman Martin:
I commend you for issuing a notice on your specific proposal for a new newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule. This action moves the process forward and, unlike 2003, affords interested parties an opportunity to comment formally. I have serious concerns, however, that the timeline you have set forth is insufficient to allow for meaningful comment and evaluation of comments on the proposed rule. First, the commission is not affording interested parties the opportunity to file reply comments on the proposal. Second, if the commission adheres to your stated deadline of Dec. 18, 2007, for adopting a final rule, commissioners will have just one week to evaluate comments on the proposal.
Amending media-ownership regulations, including a rule that has been on the books for more than three decades, is a grave matter that deserves the commission’s full and fair consideration. I strongly urge you to give a matter of this import the complete analysis and reflection it warrants.
I will reserve judgment on the merits of the proposal until I have had an opportunity to evaluate the proposed rule and gain a greater understanding of its impact on competition, localism and diversity of viewpoints in the specific markets in question. I look forward to learning more about the proposal at the hearing planned on this issue next month before this Committee’s Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.
JOHN D. DINGELL