Senators Chastise Martin on Upcoming Media Ownership Vote

December 14, 2007
The Senate Commerce Committee made a punching bag once again of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, accusing him of ignoring the will of Congress and worrying more about the financial welfare of media corporations than the public interest.

“I don’t get why Republicans would be crying alligator tears over newspapers having problems,” said Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), in what was probably his final Commerce Committee hearing. “What are you doing?”

If enacted, the new rules would generally allow newspaper owners in the nation’s top 20 markets to also own broadcast properties outside of the top four TV stations in that market, if the commission determined the market included eight distinct media voices. In smaller markets, such mergers would also be possible under certain circumstances.

Democratic Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps have complained that the supposed new tests to allow such mergers are minimal under Martin’s proposal. “We made that about as easy as taking your next breath,” Copps said.

Martin also said the new rules would include a mandate for more local programming by broadcasters and the establishment of permanent programming advisory boards. Last month, the commission ruled that broadcasters would have to provide more information about their programming.

Just a week ago, the Commerce Committee unanimously passed a measure that would effectively delay the Dec. 18 vote Martin has scheduled on the ownership matter. But that bill is unlikely to pass the Congress by year’s end.

Martin and fellow Republican Commissioners Deborah Taylor Tate and Robert McDowell have pointed to years of reports and orders, scores of hearings and studies and hundreds of thousands of comments on the matter. Some lawmakers and Copps and Adelstein said a Dec. 18 vote would take place while inquiries on localism and minority and female ownership are still ongoing.

Some senators also questioned whether Martin’s focus on the ownership issue is distracting the commission from the far more urgent matter of the DTV transition.

“I am really worried that your penchant and obsession with this media ownership thing has moved DTV off the burner to the detriment of the public,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

Lott, the former Senate majority leader, counseled patience for the chairman.

“I still don’t see why you need to force this to a head on the 18th,” Lott said. “Not because you’re going to change a lot of opinions by waiting a little more, but because you take the argument [about the hurried process] away. I’ve tried to force-feed things in my life and in this institution, and it doesn’t work.”

Receive regular news and technology updates.
Sign up for our free newsletter here.