'Official' event not sanctioned, called 'field' meetings

WASHINGTON — Reminding the divided ranks that he’s in control, Federal Communications Commission chair Michael Powell made it clear Thursday that Democratic commish Michael Copps had no authority to schedule official public hearings on media ownership rules.

Copps, who insists that more of a national debate is needed before the rules are voted on, did not consult Powell, a Republican, before announcing in a press release that he was scheduling two commission hearings, in Seattle and Durham, N.C.

Powell directed the agency to issue a corrected press release, which states that the hearings being arranged by Copps are “field” hearings, not FCC events.

Crunch time

In recent days, Powell has appeared frustrated by the growing outcry over the regulations agency’s review of an unprecedented number of regs, an outcry based in part on the perception that the chairman is keen on deregulation.

If the FCC rules in question are undone, congloms like News Corp. and Viacom could expand their empires.

Coming to Powell’s defense Thursday — intentional or not– was Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.). In a letter, Tauzin urged Powell to stick by his original timeline and finish the review by spring. That schedule doesn’t necessarily jibe with Copps’ skedded hearings.

“As we approach midwinter, I would appreciate your renewed commitment that the (commission) is operating within this specific timeframe and that final resolution of all of the outstanding broadcast ownership issues is indeed on the horizon,” wrote Tauzin, chair of the influential House Commerce Committee.

“If such a commitment cannot be made, I would similarly appreciate a detailed explanation of the circumstances and obstacles that are impeding the (FCC’s) ability to meet that deadline.”

Official matter

When launching the review last fall, Powell said no public hearings were needed since any interested party can file written comments with the FCC.

Copps refused to budge, and helped showbiz guilds and other groups to organize a public forum at Columbia U. in New York. USC’s Center for Communication & Law will host another hearing. Powell is the only commissioner not attending, citing a personal scheduling conflict.

Instead, Powell will host the FCC’s sole official public hearing on the ownership regs hearing in Richmond, Va., on Feb. 27.

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