Obama warns FCC on endgame for media ownership proceeding

by Matthew Lasar, Lasar Letter

Speaking in Chicago, a representative for presidential hopeful Barack Obama urged the Federal Communications Commission not to propose new media ownership rules without opening them up to public comment first.

"In the spirit of transparency and because of the importance of this issue to our democratic discourse, I strongly request that the FCC put out any specific changes they intend to vote on in a new notice proposal rulemaking, so that the American people have the opportunity to review them," Obama's spokesperson Corey Bennett told the audience at today's FCC hearing on media ownership, held at Operation Push's Chicago headquarters.

"The current hearings are an important examination of the issues to the hypothetical rules, but any specific changes should receive public review and comment."

The crowd politely applauded the remark, saving their enthusiasm for more rousing comments against media consolidation. Probably few realized that the U.S. Senator from Illinois had touched on a raw issue within the Commission.

These hearings are part of a lengthy proceeding on whether to relax the FCC's media ownership rules. Up for grabs are regulations limiting how many radio, TV stations, and newspapers a single entity can own, as well as how many TV household a single company can reach nationally.

The last time the FCC tried to loosen its rules in 2003, a the Third Circuit Court of Appeals struck most of the Order down a year later. The FCC started at square one last summer by launching a new public proceeding on the issue.

But the open ended nature of the proceedings' questions led the Commissions' two Democrats, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, to ask the obvious at an FCC meeting: What will the agency's Republican majority do after the proceeding concludes?

"I am deeply disappointed that this Notice does not contain a specific, up-front commitment to share proposed media concentration rules with the American people in advance of a final vote," Copps said on June 21st, 2006, the day of the new proceeding's launching. "I do not see how we can be transparent and comply with the dictates of the Third Circuit without letting the American people know about and comment on any new standards of measurement that we adopt in developing our ultimate decision."

Adelstein echoed Copps concern about transparency, wondering out loud if the public will have a chance to comment on specific rules changes before they are made.

"The large media companies wanted, and today they get, a blank check to permit further media consolidation," Adelstein said. "The Notice is so open-ended that it will permit the majority of the Commission to allow giant media companies to get even bigger at the time, place and manner of their choosing."

At an FCC Native American telecommunications conference last year the Lasar Letter asked Copps' aide Scott Deutschman whether any progress had been made on the issue.

"I don't think that we have the answer," Deutschman said. "I know that we've raised it. I know that we think it is desperately important. I don't think that it is provided for at this point to do that."

Obama made his remarks at the fifth of six scheduled FCC hearings on media ownership. The FCC has also released its long promised ten studies on media ownership. Although three public interest groups have raised questions about them, the next phase of this controversial proceeding is beginning to appear on the horizon.

The Lasar Letter doubts that Barack Obama is the only FCC watcher who will have something to say about the endgame.

article originally published at http://www.lasarletter.net/drupal/node/471.

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