WASHINGTON — Bracing against the winds of change at the FCC, the commission’s two Democrats formally requested Tuesday that the agency put off the June 2 vote on broad new rules governing media ownership for one month.
Chairman Michael Powell has yet to respond, but if comments by the two other GOP board members are any indication, prospects for any delay are bleak at best.
“Many of the rulemakings incorporated into this proceeding have been pending for over a year,” GOP commissioner Kevin Martin said in a statement. “It is past time to act.”
Fellow Republican Kathleen Abernathy also opposed the request, arguing that if the agency fails to act, the courts could step in and decide the issue.
The move came as details of Powell’s draft plan began leaking out of the FCC and the prospect of greater media concentration caught fire on Capitol Hill.
Keeping the cap on
After a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday focused on the rules changes’ impact on TV, Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) introduced a bipartisan bill that would roll back the rule, if enacted, to the 35% status quo. Similar legislation was previously introduced in the House.
The hearing pitted media giant Viacom prexy Mel Karmazin against Capitol Broadcasting Co. topper Jim Goodman and Media News Group head William Dean Singleton against Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen.
News that Powell wants to raise the bar limiting the national audience any one TV station owner can reach from 35% to 45%, as many expected, caused consternation on both sides of the aisle.
The limit could increase exponentially for companies owning many UHF stations because a current rule discounts UHF viewership by half, a point Goodman tried to hammer home.
Karmazin touts dereg
During testimony marked by flashes of anger and laughter, Karmazin maintained that deregulation of the broadcast industry is long overdue.
“It is utterly unsupportable and unrealistic that broadcasters should be handcuffed in their attempts to compete for consumers at a time when Americans are bombarded with media choices via technologies never dreamed of a decade ago,” he said.
Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) repeatedly questioned how allowing the fewer companies to control more media outlets benefits the public.
Dorgan acknowledged that there are more media outlets now than ever before with the introduction of cable and the Internet.
“But those voices all come from the same ventriloquist,” he cautioned.