Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) sent a letter Friday to FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin threatening to block funding for the Federal Communications Commission if Martin goes ahead with a planned vote to relax the newspaper-broadcaster cross-ownership ban.
Kerry and Obama urged Martin to postpone the vote until the FCC studies the facts and reasons underlying the low number of women — and minority-owned media outlets. If Martin goes ahead with the vote — expected to pass 3-2 along party lines — the two legislators said they will ask the Appropriations Committee to deny funding need to implement a looser cross-ownership rule.
“This is a showdown with an FCC chairman who is letting the FCC do the bidding of big corporate conglomerates without giving smaller media outlets a chance to fight back,” said Kerry in a statement.
“We must ensure that we have an open media market that represents all of the voices in our diverse nation and allows them to be heard,” Obama said in a statement. “The FCC must meet its obligations to our country’s minority communities and not special interests by ensuring that broadcasters are doing right by the communities they operate in before it considers loosening media ownership regulations. I reiterate my call to the FCC to conduct its rules changes in a transparent and inclusive process, respect minority interests and delay its upcoming vote until further evaluations are completed.”
The ultimatum comes a day after a defiant Martin appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee, which pressed him to delay the vote. Martin resisted, saying the time to act was now, given the years that the commission has been reviewing the issue and the fact that in 2004 a federal court essentially OK’d an updating of the 32-year-old ban.
Earlier this month, the Commerce Committee passed a bipartisan bill that would postpone the Dec. 18 vote until the FCC completed studies of women/minority ownership and localism. But the House has not passed a companion bill yet.
Still, Kerry and Obama wrote that, should Martin proceed with the Dec. 18 vote, he would be violating “the expressed bipartisan, bicameral intent of Congress.”
An FCC spokeswoman declined to comment on the letter.