In tones even more strident than those heard during the earlier House hearing, members of the Senate Commerce Committee this week strongly cautioned FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to wait to push for a vote to relax the cross-ownership ban.
That is now scheduled for next Tuesday’s FCC meeting.
Some lawmakers said Martin’s focus on media ownership has pushed aside the DTV transition as a commission priority. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., said the agency is so misguided he called for reauthorization of the commission next year.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. reminded the chairman the FCC is a creature of Congress and therefore takes its direction from lawmakers.
Senators listed the complaints against Martin’s plan to allow one company to own both a newspaper and either a TV or radio station in a market under certain conditions. Several senators and the two Democratic commissioners say the criteria are too loose.
Most of the complaints came from Democratic lawmakers, though Trent Lott, R-Miss, in what was likely his last committee hearing in Congress, asked Martin why the vote — now slated for Dec. 18 — can’t wait. “I’ve tried to force-feed things in my life and in this institution. It doesn’t work.”
Asking Martin to explain the rationale for giving newspaper owners a break, Lott said, “I don’t get why Republicans would be crying alligator tears over newspaper problems.”
One of the criteria to waive the cross-ownership ban under Martin’s proposal is that the combined news entities must create “more news” after receiving a waiver. Critics say “more news” is undefined. Martin said he’d be happy to work with his colleagues to make the definition more concrete.
During the more than three hours of criticism, Martin calmly told lawmakers he intends to go ahead with the Dec. 18 vote.
The media ownership issue is the most divisive the FCC has ever tackled and proposals to re-craft the rules have been worked on at the agency for a decade, he said.
In response to a blistering line of questioning from Kerry, who called Martin “headstrong,” the chairman said he isn’t convinced there will ever be a consensus on media ownership. “I think it’s time to move forward.”
Several lawmakers said the DTV transition hasn’t been getting enough attention at the agency as a result of Martin’s focus on media ownership.
Rockefeller said he’s concerned the agency is becoming more concerned its policies favor the companies it regulates. “We cannot allow that to happen.”
He called for the Senate to develop a bill next year to reorganize and reauthorize the commission. He suggested postponing action on new nominations to the FCC until a new administration is determined.
Committee Chairman Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, assured Rockefeller that reforming the FCC “can be done.”