FCC’s Martin agrees to complete localism probe before reviewing media ownership restrictions.

Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has changed his mind and agreed to complete a pending proceeding on TV localism before completing the commission’s review of the nation’s media ownership restrictions.

Martin’s decision came in a letter to Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), a Democrat activist on telecom and media issues in Congress. Dorgan and eight of his Senate colleagues, both Democrat and Republican, insisted that the localism proceedings be completed before the determination of new media ownership rules.

Dorgan and others contended that before media ownership rules could be established, it is important to know whether locally owned TV and radio stations provide better service than stations owned by outside media conglomerates. Such information, the legislators said, is critical to evaluating any media ownership changes the Republican-controlled FCC might propose.

The localism inquiry, begun in 2003 by Martin’s predecessor, Michael Powell, investigates how TV broadcasters are serving their communities through original news and public affairs programming. Martin had wanted to fold the localism inquiry into the broader ownership proceeding.

In his concession to the members of Congress, Martin agreed to conduct two remaining localism hearings, one of which will be in Maine.

Martin’s change of heart came as Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the new chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, promised that the committee will look at a range of FCC issues in coming weeks. Such increased FCC oversight comes with the shift to Democrat control of Congress.