Public input vital on media regulation

[Seattle Times editorial]

Let us hope the Federal Communications Commission learned the importance of an open process when tinkering with rules that govern media ownership.

The FCC announced in June that the commission would revisit whether to repeal media-ownership rules. On July 25, the FCC started a public comment period that will close Nov. 21 and plans to hold six public hearings throughout the nation. That's a good start, but not enough for an issue that directly affects democracy. The public-comment period should be lengthened, promoted and more hearings should be added.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin need only look back three years to the debacle his predecessor, Michael Powell, presided over when the commission voted to lift a much-needed cross-ownership ban.

Powell's FCC voted to change the rules so one company could own a newspaper, TV stations and radio stations all in the same market. The FCC did so with little public input.

Compounding the problem was Powell's absence at the public hearings set up by Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, the two commissioners who voted against the rule changes.

The changes were wildly unpopular with the public, rejected twice by the Senate and were sent back to the FCC by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

If Martin is truly interested in public opinion, he must attend every hearing. Staff surrogates do not count. What he will hear is a public that desires a diverse media not dominated by a handful of conglomerates.

Sen. Maria Cantwell has sent a letter to Martin requesting a hearing in Washington. Our state is a logical location for hearings designed to gain a regional perspective outside the Beltway. It also makes sense to come to Washington because of Cantwell's previous opposition to rule changes and her seat on the Commerce Committee, which oversees communications issues.

Cantwell must be a vigilant leader for an independent press. She can leverage her position to make sure Washington voices are heard and the FCC's process is open. Our democracy depends on it.

article originally published at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/editorialsopinion/2003176078_heared06.html.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey