Pols tackle regulations & irregulations

WASHINGTON — The commemoration of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks didn’t stop Washington from plowing ahead last week on key issues impacting the media and entertainment biz.

On the morning of Sept. 12, the Federal Communications Commission headed down the path of deregulation, voting to put up for review an unprecedented number of ownership rules constraining the TV biz.

“It is ambitious, but I would submit it’s an examination long overdue,” said FCC chair Michael Powell, a fan of the marketplace.

Regs up for grabs include a ban on owning two major broadcast nets; a cap blocking a broadcaster from reaching more than 35% of the national aud; a TV/radio cross-ownership restriction; and a restriction on owning multiple TV stations in the same market.

The big media and entertainment congloms aren’t celebrating just yet, considering it could take up to a year for the FCC to complete an exhaustive review, which will include a lengthy public comment period.

Also, with the brutal economic downturn and the stock plunge, most companies aren’t in the position to expand.

Martha, Martha, Martha

The more scintillating news happened two days earlier, when Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.) and other lawmakers asked the U.S. Dept. of Justice to open a criminal investigation into whether domesticity diva Martha Stewart lied to them about a stock sale. At issue is whether she was the beneficiary of insider information.

Amazingly enough, shares in Stewart’s company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, soared nearly 17% on the afternoon of Sept. 10 to close at $9.05.

Wall Street clearly embraced the conclusion of the drawn-out congressional confrontation. Many had expected Tauzin to subpoena Stewart and force her to clear up several inconsistencies, but the politico backed down in the end.

Still, being accused of lying to Congress is no trivial matter, particularly if the DOJ heeds the Capitol Hill request.

Stewart, who has insisted the stock sale was above board, presides over a media empire that distributes domestic arts content through books, magazines, television, radio and the Internet. The company also is heavily involved in merchandising.

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