09.07.2003 12:00 PM
Powell’s chairmanship under assault

It’s hard to imagine how FCC Chairman Michael Powell could have had a worse week on the job. His key deregulatory philosophy went up in smoke, as his politically divided agency was forced to indefinitely suspend the trading of broadcast stations.

As the architect and chief proponent of the controversial new media ownership rules, Powell now finds his leadership questioned by even his own supporters. The Washington Post recently reported that even lobbyists for the nation’s media and telecommunications companies—beneficiaries of Powell’s pro-business policies—now question whether he has the political savvy to deliver on his ambitious agenda.

After all, it was a Republican-controlled House that voted 400-to-21 to block Powell’s broadcast ownership rules despite the objections of the House leadership and a veto threat from the White House. “Never before have I seen an FCC chairman’s decision repudiated by the House of Representatives so quickly and so emphatically,” noted Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a Congressional expert on electronic media policy.

“Michael Powell is sitting with egg all over his face this week,” said Gene Kimmelman, a senior director at Consumers Union, a key opponent of the new FCC rules. “The Congress rebukes him and a court blocks his rules in just two days.”

Powell has not spoken publicly since last week’s rebukes. But rumors run rampart that the environment within the FCC these days is tense and hostile. Powell has had rough relations with fellow Republican Kevin J. Martin, who openly opposed him earlier this year on major rule changes governing the telephone industry. He is said to be barely on speaking terms with Democratic commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein.

Even key Republicans in the Senate, including Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), have signed onto the Democrat’s “Resolution of Disapproval” that would effectively halt the FCC’s work to revise all of the new media ownership rules.

The Washington Post reported that Powell's colleagues at the FCC privately complain that the chairman often refuses to consider their points of view or incorporate their ideas into final regulations. The result is a badly divided agency.

“If there is one fault that the chairman has, it is that he comes to this as a lawyer, not a politician,” a Powell supporter told the newspaper. The chairman pushed through the media ownership decision despite a request from the two Democrats that he postpone the vote. It is a longstanding FCC tradition to honor such requests, but Powell refused, saying a delay was not likely to result in any changes to long-held views.

Finally, the Post reported, Powell moved forward with the media ownership rule over the protests of a broad coalition of liberal and conservative public-interest groups. Sources, the newspaper reported, said the FCC received more than two million e-mails and comments protesting the decision.

For more information visit www.fcc.gov.

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