Just five days before the final FCC Open Meeting of 2007, the controversy surrounding Chairman Kevin Martin’s media ownership proposal has reached a fever pitch. Martin’s fellow Commissioners, many Congressmen and commenters on both sides of the issue have barraged Martin with an onslaught of criticism for the manner by which he released his proposal and his inclusion of the item on the Dec. 18 agenda. The proposal was announced on Nov. 13 in what a group of commenters including Common Cause, the National Organization for Women, and United Church of Christ labeled an "unusual and vaguely worded" news release that was not published in the Federal Register or voted on by the Commission.
Martin’s proposal would amend the restriction on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership to allow such cross-ownership in the top 20 markets, with built-in protections introduced to ensure editorial independence. Martin has been lambasted for what some deem a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and other principles of administrative law for failing to afford sufficient time for public comment and review by his colleagues on the Commission.
When the December 12 "Sunshine Act" notice indicatedthat the item would be included on the Dec. 18 agenda – despite pleas from Congress, other Commissioners and members of the industry to postpone the vote – Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein released a scathing joint statement expressing their deep disappointment at what they deem a "huge mistake."
"We have been engaged in internal discussions to try to get our processes back on track," Copps and Adelstein wrote. "We wish those discussions had led to better results. At this point, given the lateness of the hour, we hope that either we can turn this around internally, or that Congress can save the FCC from itself."
Congress might seek to do exactly that, as the Senate Commerce Committee summoned Martin and the other four Commissioners to the Hill to appear before the Committee on December 13. The Committee has already unanimously approved a bill introduced by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) that would require the Commission to open a 90-day comment period on a proposed rule and complete a study on localism. After publishing the result of the study, the Commission would then have to publish the final rules and allow 90 days for public comment. Members of the Committee have stated that they expect the bill to pass.