One of the most contentious media policy issues shows no signs of cooling down at the FCC. Democrat commissioners now suggest the Republican chairman may have doctored new research to favor his corporate, pro-consolidation argument.
Little has changed since Michael Powell , the FCC chairman earlier in the decade, was accused of the same tactic. Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, the two Democrat commissioners, say Republican chairman Kevin Martin excluded them from preparation of 10 new FCC reports on media ownership. With the exception of one, all the authors and topics of the reports were selected by Martin, the “National Journal” reported.
An FCC spokeswoman, however, insists the Democrats were involved. “We’re committed to having an open and transparent process,” she told the “Journal.”
The Democrats were also unhappy because the reports were released just before a month-long congressional summer recess and at a time when media attention was mostly focused on rules involving next year’s spectrum auction.
“Just when we hoped an open media-ownership process was developing here at the FCC, along comes this bucket of ice water,” Copps and Adelstein said. The public has 60 days to provide feedback on the data in reports and 15 days to reply to the comments.
“The commission expects the public to analyze all 10 studies, and reams of underlying data, and file comments 60 days from today!” Adelstein and Copps complained. “This is unfair, unnecessary and ultimately unwise — inviting public, congressional and judicial outrage.”
The FCC has been conducting nationwide field hearings on media ownership, with the next one scheduled for Sept. 20 in Chicago. The process, ordered by a court that found flaws with the last Republican-controlled FCC media consolidation effort, will determine whether to modify rules addressing a range of ownership thresholds affecting television and radio stations, and co- ownership of broadcast and newspaper properties.
The studies address issues such as programming quality and consolidation within the broadcast, cable and radio sectors. One report on ownership of media outlets by minorities and women,
whose authors were chosen by Martin, justifies low levels of female ownership by suggesting that women are underrepresented in many industries, including construction. Comparisons also are drawn to female involvement in “transportation and warehousing,” among other industries.
The Democrat commissioners have questioned the FCC’s commitment to allowing the studies to undergo a peer review involving examination of the data by other experts. An agency source told the “National Journal” that Martin has balked at a peer review at this juncture, meaning that the public will comment on reports that may later be deemed invalid.