The Democrats in control of Congress continue to focus on the war, peace and the economy. They're also taking another look at proposed legislation for media regulation.
Some of the emerging legislative proposals are embodied in the Media Ownership Reform Act (MORA), which would, among other things, reimpose the fairness doctrine.
One of MORA's prime sponsors, Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-NY, has voiced support for reimposing the fairness doctrine, which would force both conservative and liberal talk stations to air contrary views.
MORA also aims to force increased public service obligations on broadcast licensees and to reimpose certain multiple ownership restrictions. Those restrictions would limit future transactions, as well as require divestiture of stations if multiple ownership arrangements — once legal — no longer pass under the new law.
MORA was previously introduced when the GOP was the majority in Congress and had little chance of passage. Today, it is still not a priority item for Congress, but parts of the legislation are a threat.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH, who is the new chairman of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee, has been vocal on media issues, including a fairness doctrine rewrite. The Domestic Policy Subcommittee focuses on communications issues.
Loose ownership restrictions or freer reign?
More political pressure exists in Congress today to get the FCC to increase regulatory activity well beyond the agency's recent crusade to curtail dirty words and pictures.
For example, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, criticized FCC Chairman Kevin Martin at oversight hearings in February. Dorgan railed against loosening of ownership restrictions that he said have “emasculated” the public interest. In response, Martin said that public interest is made more “robust” by allowing market forces a freer reign.
The reality of the MORA
The entertainment industry remains one of the Democrats' most reliable sources of campaign money. While it is true that some parts of the entertainment community, such as some station groups, have interests on the Republican side, it seems that broadcasting companies would have considerable power if the fairness doctrine re-emerges.
Politicians may find it expedient to attack the media, particularly given the sex and violence on television, but whether this rhetoric will bring back the fairness doctrine, imposing new public interest standards and blocking further media consolidation, remains to be seen.
It took Congress 60 years to rewrite the 1996 Communications Act. In an era of war, deficits, scandals, presidential politics and immigration abuse, it is unlikely much of MORA will ever become law.
Harry C. Martin is a past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth PLC.
June 1 is the deadline for television stations in Michigan and Ohio to file their 2007 biennial ownership reports.
TV, Class A and LPTV stations that produce their own programming in the following states must place their annual EEO reports in their public files by June 1: Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
The 2004-2007 TV renewal application cycle ended April 1. The next renewal applications are due on June 1, 2012, for stations in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
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