Ownership rules urged to fast track

Bush satisfied with amount of public input collected

WASHINGTON — The White House Thursday threw the full weight of the Oval Office and the administration behind FCC Commissioner Michael Powell’s desire to wrap up work on new media ownership rules June 2.

Commerce Dept. Secretary Don Evans sent a letter to Powell urging the agency, on behalf of the Bush administration, to stick to its guns and meet the self-imposed deadline.

“I urge the Commission to adhere to the schedule you have outlined,” he wrote.

Evans’ missive is the latest in a string of letters from prominent Senators, trade associations and consumer groups exhorting the FCC to either hold fast to the June deadline or put it off in order to allow more public scrutiny of the proposed changes governing media mergers.

Those pushing for more time argue Powell is being too secretive about the changes he plans to recommend and say he has kept some commissioners out of the loop.

Current media ownership rules prohibit a company or individual from owning TV stations and newspapers in the same major market; limit the number of television stations in the same market that can be owned by a broadcaster; and restrict a single company from owning television stations that reach more than 35% of the national audience.

While the White House supports Powell’s June 2 deadline, just last week the Small Business Administration accused the FCC of violating federal law by failing to allow sufficient public comment on the matter.

But Bush clearly rejects any notion the FCC has failed to gather enough public input. Evans said the review process has already resulted in input from 18,000 people or organizations. He also commended the agency for commissioning a dozen studies of the state of the media marketplace and holding a number of public hearings.

“The current review is the most thorough and comprehensive in the 60-year history of the media ownership rules,” Evans wrote.

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