Rep. Dingell ousted as chairman of committee that oversees FCC

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat, ousted Rep. John D. Dingell of Michigan from his post as chairman of the influential House Committee on Energy and Commerce last week. Though the move is good for President-elect Barack Obama’s ambitious plans to combat global warming, it was seen as bad news for over-the-air broadcasters.

Dingell’s nearly 28-year reign as his party’s top member on the committee ended by a vote of 137 to 122. Waxman, a tough environmentalist, overturned the seniority system replacing the longest-serving current member of the House of Representatives.

The chairmanship of the committee is one of the House’s most powerful posts. It oversees the FCC and broadcast issues, but more importantly will handle legislation on climate change, energy and health care — all issues that President-elect Obama is seeking to push quickly through the new Congress.

Waxman, 69, is considered more liberal than Dingell and had the backing of many environmentalists for his tough stands on clean air and global warming. Dingell, though also an environmentalist, was one of the auto industry’s best friends.

As a side effect of the change, broadcasters lost a major friend. Dingell, a strong critic of the FCC’s handling of the DTV transition, will now be gone from the scene when the broadcasters turn off their analog signals in February.

Waxman has long been a strong critic of the media. He has advocated free airtime for political candidates and challenged the networks after some called the 2000 presidential election incorrectly. He has also expressed concern about broadcast product placements. However, being from California, Waxman has supported the motion picture studios on copyright protection issues.

Broadcasters suffered a similar fate on the Senate side of Congress when Daniel Inouye, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, was selected to move to Appropriations. That left Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, also no friend to broadcasters, as the Senate Commerce chairman.

Coupled by the loss last week of Sen. Ted Stevens, the ranking minority member of the Commerce Committee and a friend to broadcasting interests, it has not been a good week for broadcasters.