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New FCC chairman could get tough on indecency issues

Though he has an independent streak, some things are well known about Kevin J. Martin, the telecommunications lawyer who has been named the new chairman of the FCC. One of the most relevant: he’s an aggressive hardliner on what he considers indecency in broadcasting.

Unless the courts intervene, Martin’s chairmanship may set the stage for another round of stiff fines to broadcasters for infractions that offend social conservatives. Martin has taken some of the FCC’s more aggressive approaches in indecency cases, dissenting from a series of opinions in which the agency either found no violation or did not issue what he believed was a significant enough punishment.

Because of those votes, he was strongly endorsed for the job by some conservative organizations that have pushed the agency to come down harder on radio and television broadcasters.

Like his predecessor, Michael Powell, Martin is an advocate of deregulating media. However, unlike Powell, Martin is considered a skillful politician with the savvy to navigate controversial issues and build consensus.

Scott Cleland, a regulatory analyst with Precursor Group, told the New York Times that the major change between Powell and Martin will be one of style and political skills.

For the White House, Martin is a well-known figure and one that, as a sitting commissioner, does not need to be confirmed by the Senate in order to lead the FCC. The elevation of Martin, along with the expected departure of Commissioner Kathleen Q. Abernathy, gives the White House the opportunity to make two appointments to the agency and reshape the composition of the five-member body.

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