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Obama Critical of FCC Plan to Speed Up Media Review

From Dow Jones, October 22, 2007
By Corey Boles

Democratic Presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D- Ill., lambasted Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin for trying to rush through changes to the agency’s media-ownership rules.

In a letter sent Monday to Martin, Obama called the accelerated timeline proposed by the chairman “irresponsible,” saying the FCC had failed to take steps to encourage greater involvement in media ownership by minority and local interest groups.

“I object to the agency moving forward to allow greater consolidation in the media market without first fully understanding how that would limit opportunities for minority, small business, and women-owned firms,” said Obama.

According to FCC officials, Martin has circulated plans to wind up the FCC’s long-running review of its media ownership rules by mid-December.

A detailed plan for reform hasn’t been released yet. However, according to the timeline released to the other members of the commission, Martin plans to present his plan by mid-November and hold a vote on it a month later.

Obama is the second Democratic presidential contender to voice concern about the timeline. Last week, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said he opposed the notion of an accelerated review of the rules and “would do everything in his power to stop this proposal.”

The fear by the lawmakers is that a Martin plan could allow greater consolidation in ownership of radio and television stations, making it even more difficult for minority and women’s groups to achieve greater representation in these media.

In a statement released Monday, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the chairman of the powerful House Commerce Committee, urged the FCC not to rush to judgment in the proceeding.

“It is my sincere hope that the Commission will allow reasonable time for evaluation of the public input received on its media ownership studies and all of its public hearings before finalizing rules,” said Dingell.

The Democratic members of the FCC have long been concerned about the under- representation of these groups in media ownership.

Martin, too, has said in the past that he is not pleased with the amount of diversity currently on the airwaves. There has been some suggestion by analysts that his ultimate plan for reform of the complicated media-ownership rules won’t be as drastic as those put forward by his predecessor as chairman, Michael Powell, also a Republican.

Powell’s plan was subsequently rejected by an Appeals Court that told him he hadn’t done enough to justify his attempt to lift many of the media-ownership caps.

One of the rules that could be changed is that which currently prohibits the same company from owning a radio or television station and newspaper in the same market.

Martin has repeatedly expressed support for scrapping this rule. If it were removed, the sale of Tribune Co. (TRB) to real-estate magnate Sam Zell could quickly be finalized. Tribune Co. currently has several waivers from the cross- ownership rule, which would need to be renewed by the FCC in order for the sale to Zell to be approved.

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