BY ALICIA MUNDY Cannons to the right of them, cannons to the left, the media ownership proceeding at the Federal Communications Commission is starting to look like the Charge of the Light Brigade. And there’s no cavalry in sight to save the day. First, Chairman Michael Powell has been beset by Democrat Michael Copps, by Republican Kevin Martin, by a full house of consumer groups and now by three senators who want him to slow down a little before his commission announces any ownership rule changes. What makes the latter move so interesting is that this senatorial trio is all Republican — like Powell. Their request, delivered to the chairman in a letter, may be just the “first of several such letters,” says Blair Levin of Legg Mason. If so, Powell may find himself stuck between the courts and a waffling Congress, with his media ownership proceeding in limbo. Copps has been determined to change the approach to media ownership review, so that re-justifying the rules, which the courts want, takes second place to justifying their potential impact on public interest issues (which the court has also upheld). Martin’s position is diametrically opposed: Justifying the rules comes first, and they have to be proved “indispensable,” and not just “important” for the public interest, he said in a detailed and cleverly worded dissent to the Biennial Review just released last week. Sniping from the sidelines are the consumer groups — Andy Schwartzman of the Media Access Project and Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy, and the Consumer Union. They had Copps in their corner, and some support from the other Democrat, Jon Adelstein. But how they landed Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and Conservative Wayne Allard of Colorado, is a mystery even to Senate staffers. Interestingly, John McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, was aware the letter was going out and did not throw a body block to stop it. Snowe, who sits on his committee, is said to have given him advance notice, and he didn’t shut her down — which has tea-leaf readers in Congress very busy. But one lobbyist said there was an easy explanation: “They may talk free market and deregulation on the Hill, but politicians are scared of too much media consolidation. They don’t want to run in an area where one conglomerate controls everything.” The letter asked Powell to review the impact of any proposed rule change on “diversity, localism and competition.” It ended, “Please do not proceed with a final rule until the commission provides both a full description of all proposed changes and the empirical foundation…as well as for an ample public comment period so that members of the public and Congress will have an opportunity to evaluate the new rules’ potential impact.” Powell has been adamant that there has been public comment all over the place, and time is running out. “I have said many times that I support the principles of diversity, competition and localism that are the goals of the FCC broadcast ownership rules, and that as we draw the current proceeding to a conclusion, there will be rules designed to ensure a robust marketplace of ideas in the media,” Powell told Cable World via e-mail. “What I have emphasized, however, is that both the congressionally mandated Biennial Review, which is the basis for our current proceeding, and the U.S. Court of Appeals rulings, where many of these very rules have been overturned, impose a significant burden on the FCC to justify, with empirical data, the need for broadcast ownership limits in light of current marketplace conditions.” If Congress intervenes, will the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban be the only rule that gets a radical change?

The Daily

Subscribe

Mediacom Shows Off 10G Smart Home in Iowa

Folks got a first look at what a future with 10G could look like last week at Mediacom’s 10G Smart Home in Ames, Iowa.

Read the Full Issue
The Skinny is delivered on Tuesday and focuses on the cable profession. You'll stay in the know on the headlines, topics and special issues you value most. Sign Up