Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who teamed up to try to block the Federal Communications Commission's deregulatory rule rewrite back in 2003, are trying again, or at least attempting to delay it until a separate proceeding on the effects of consolidation on broadcast localism can be fully vetted.
FCC chairman Kevin Martin has said that he would not undertake the general rule rewrite until completing a report on localism comments submitted to the FCC, and a source confirmed that he plans to release that within the next couple of weeks. But Martin has also indicated that he would like to vote on new ownership rules by mid-December, and Dorgan and Lott think that is too soon.
In a letter to Martin Thursday, the pair said the report is "not enough for an item of [this] significance."
They called on Martin to finish a long-standing, separate localism inquiry; to propose rules related to that; and then to give commenters "at least 90 days" prior to a vote on a general rule rewrite. Martin had earlier agreed to "fully include" the localism findings in the overall media-ownership review, but Dorgan and Lott have long called for a separate localism review on its own track and timetable.
Martin has held five media-ownership hearings across the country, with a sixth tentatively planned for early November and a second localism hearing for Oct. 31 in Washington, D.C.
Dorgan and Lott applauded Martin for that effort but also pointed to an unreleased localism study that found that more local news was produced by locally owned stations, as well as to process problems with the peer reviews of a series of media-ownership studies the FCC released two months ago.
Waving a yellow caution flag, the two senators concluded: "We strongly encourage you to slow down and proceed with caution, maintaining the public-interest goals of localism, diversity and competition as top priorities."
The letter was prompted by Dorgan's discovery Wednesday that Martin had circulated a proposed timetable for completing the 18-month-old media-ownership review, which was ordered by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The commission is also under congressional orders to review all of its rules every four years to determine which ones are still needed and which ones can be modified or jettisoned.