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June deadline on ownership set in stone, Powell declares

FCC Chairman Michael Powell is determined to stick to his June 2 deadline to free corporate restrictions of media ownership.

Powell wrote to several members of Congress last week contending there is no reason for delay or additional public comment on pending rule changes that would result in more concentrated media ownership. “If I were convinced that the record was deficient, or that any proposed course required additional comment, I would not hesitate to seek it,” he said in a letter to members of Congress.

Softening the ownership restrictions for media corporations is high on the Republican agenda and has been Powell’s signature issue since becoming FCC chairman. Though it is one of the most controversial issues to face the FCC in modern times, Powell appears to have the votes to approve a sweeping change in the rules.

One of his staunch supporters is FCC member Kathleen Abernathy who told supporters of the current media ownership rules that they shouldn’t expect the FCC to maintain the status quo. “That really isn’t an option,” Abernathy said last week in New York at the Museum of Television and Radio.

“The courts made clear in their rulings that the Commission must justify the retention of any our rules, or they will be eliminated,” she said. “Thus, there is a presumption in favor of repealing or modifying our ownership rules. There is no presumption in favor of retaining the rules as they currently exist.”

Acknowledging the intense criticism of the FCC on the issue, Abernathy said, “Some have argued that despite the court decisions and the statutory mandate, we should nevertheless continue to embrace the status quo.” However, she said, “that isn't really an option because if we don't commit to this undertaking, our rules will most certainly be appealed and may be remanded, or vacated by the courts.”

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