Clearly unhappy with reports suggesting that he is preparing to unleash a media
cyclops on the land, Federal Communications Commmission chairman Michael Powell
tried to set the record straight Thursday.
"There are going to be rules when this proceeding is over," he told an
audience gathered for an informal media-ownership hearing at Columbia Unversity
in New York.
The debate, he said, is over which rules, what they should say and how to
defend them, which, he suggested, would have to be with empirical evidence.
One rule there won't be, he added, is one "that lets one person own
He also warned against zealously overstating justifications for existing
rules, however, citing the FCC's repeated attempts to justify equal-employment-opportunity rules.
He said that after the courts had struck them down initially and provided
"guidance" on what to do next, the commission "insisted on pushing a little too
hard, a little too unfaithfully to the parameters of the judiciary, and they were struck down a second time as unconsitutional."
Powell said those court losses have had an adverse affect on affirmative
action and outreach in other areas. "So not only is the law we're producing
damaging to the broadcast-ownership rules, but it's damaging to values all across
the country," he added.
Powell began his address to the crowd with something of an FCC mea nonculpa,
pointing out that the current top-to-bottom review of the rules was not the
He pointed to Congress, which forced the commission to review the rules every
two years -- a process he called "somewhat regrettable" and "destabilizing" --
and the courts, which ruled that the FCC had to either produce evidence for the
rules or scrap them.
Rather than a seminal, one-time event, he said, the ownership review is
something that will have to be repeated "over and over and over."
Powell and three of the other four commissioners (Kathleen Abernathy didn't
make it) were in attendance to hear from a parade of witnesses for and against
various ownership rules.
The daylong session was moderated by Broadcasting & Cable editor
in chief Harry Jessell.