FCC topper defends his leadership

FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin expressed confidence that a congressional investigation into agency practices will show that he has done nothing different from any of his predecessors — Democratic or Republican.

In a Tuesday press conference that covered a range of topics, Martin accentuated the positive on almost every subject, though he was not yet aware until Daily Variety told him that a loud-and-clear F-bomb had been dropped on a popular ayem talker. Cracking down on broadcast indecency has been a top priority for Martin, but he was not sure the commission could do anything about this latest incident.

Martin called the meeting with reporters to recap what he considered the FCC’s major accomplishments of 2007 and outline priorities for 2008. But the majority of questions focused on a recently announced investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee into FCC practices under Martin.

Martin said those practices “have been fair and open and transparent and no different from those of any previous chairmen.” The procedures he has followed, he said, have been in place for almost a decade, if not longer.

Various industry sectors have complained about FCC proceedings, but Martin said that was probably inevitable given “the amount of contentious issues” the agency has handled in the last year, such as media ownership, possible new rules or regulation over cable television and indecency.

But he insisted the agency was functioning well, despite some members of Congress having described the FCC as “broken” or “in need of reform.”

“Ninety-five percent of issues we address we do on a 5-0 basis,” Martin said, emphasizing the instances of unanimous commission votes.

But Martin was less certain when asked about thesp Diane Keaton’s appearance Tuesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” During a live interview with host Diane Sawyer, Keaton complained semi-jokingly about having to work so much on her own “fucking personality.”

GMA spokeswoman Bridgette Maney said that as of late Tuesday afternoon, the show had not received any viewer complaints, and the naughty word was heard only along the East Coast. It was edited from broadcasts in all other time zones, Maney said.

Whether the FCC could act on any complaints is unclear at best, and probably unlikely. The incident would appear to fall under the category of “fleeting expletives,” which have traditionally been nonactionable, particularly for live news shows like “GMA.” In 2006, the agency tried to make fleeting expletives actionable, but last year a federal appeals court struck down the attempt. The FCC has petitioned the Supreme Court to take the case and is still awaiting an answer.

“Pending litigation has impacted our ability to take action on a whole host of issues,” Martin said. “But I don’t know enough about the details (of the ‘GMA’ incident) to know how it might be impacted by the pending litigation.” He added that he was not aware whether the FCC had received any complaints yet.

On the proposed merger of satcasters XM Radio and Sirius, Martin said the agency had not yet completed its analysis of the deal and would probably not rule on it until the Justice Dept. concludes its review of the merger.

Martin listed last year’s accomplishments as improving competition in the video delivery market, promoting more wireless options and strengthening privacy matters. For 2008, he listed as priorities the impending auction of the analog spectrum, the ongoing transition to all-digital television and increased broadband deployment.

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