Senators voice media-regulation fears

Democrats haven’t formally taken control of Congress yet, but they’re already making their resistance to media consolidation known to FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin, a Republican who favors easing ownership restrictions.

In a letter to Martin on Monday, six Dem senators urged him to complete a delayed study of broadcasters’ local community requirements before drafting any other ownership rules. Two GOP senators also signed the letter.

The Federal Communications Commission began its quadrennial review of media ownership rules last summer. The process is expected to take as long as a year.

As part of the 2002 review, the FCC created a localism task force, which was told to hold six public hearings and then make recommendations regarding broadcasters’ responsibilities to serve local communities. But only four hearings were held, and no recommendations have ever been issued.

In their letter, the lawmakers referred to recent public remarks Martin has made about incorporating information the task force gathered into the current review of ownership rules and not pursuing the unfinished parts of the task force’s assignment.

“This potential course of action would cause us grave concern,” the senators wrote. “The localism proceeding is, and should be, a distinct proceeding, and the hearings should be completed and specific findings and recommendations should be made.

“Furthermore, no changes should be made to the media ownership rules until the localism proceeding has been completed,” letter continued.

The lawmakers went on to argue that a precise understanding of how broadcasters are serving local communities is essential prior to revising ownership limits. Many anti-consolidation advocates maintain that, as media congloms grow, local communities suffer.

Dems signing the letter were Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), John Kerry (Mass.) and Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Republicans were Trent Lott (Miss.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine).

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