Senate Panel Hears FCC Commissioners' Testimony
December 5, 2007 at 12:49 PM (PT)
In prepared testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, FCC Chairman KEVIN MARTIN stressed the Commission's use of longer public comment periods and public hearings to head off criticism of the FCC's media ownership rules review process.
"Public input is critical to our process and informs the Commission’s thinking on these and other issues," MARTIN told the panel. He also noted the struggles of newspapers to remain viable and said, "Allowing cross-ownership may help to forestall the erosion in local news coverage by enabling companies to share these local news gathering costs across multiple media platforms."
At the hearing, when subcommittee Chairman ED MARKEY (D-MA) asked MARTIN if crossownership proposals in smaller markets would face a "high hurdle" or "speed bump" from the Commission's approval process, MARTIN responded that he would "absolutely be willing to work with (Democratic commissioners) on finding language that makes it clear that this is a high hurdle."
A different perspective came from Commissioner MICHAEL COPPS, who alleged, "The FCC is lurching dangerously off course, and I fear that at this point only Congressional oversight can put us back on track." COPPS criticized the FCC's criteria for allowing newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership as "about as tough as a bowl of Jell-O" and charged that the public hearings on media ownership and localism were "cover for a pre-determined outcome," noting that in the draft Order for the rule revisions, "While there is a passing reference to the public hearings, not a single citizen’s testimony is specifically cited or discussed ... It’s hard to reach any conclusion other than public comment is largely extraneous to the process. What else are we to think when a draft Order is circulated two weeks before public comment is due on the proposal?"
Echoing COPPS' concerns, Commissioner JONATHAN ADELSTEIN said, "I am afraid the Commission’s current course, if unchecked, could cause lasting harm to the American media for future generations." He criticized MARTIN for giving short notice for the last public hearing in SEATTLE and for releasing his plans for a new cross-ownership rule in a NEW YORK TIMES op-ed piece, and termed the studies of the cross-ownership rule "a series of deeply flawed, if not outright misleading, research cobbled together to promote a media consolidation agenda."