The People's FCC

[Seattle Times editorial]

Kevin Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is trying to remove the ethical constraints on one of his commissioners in order to get the man's vote on an issue of national concern. The chairman's action is wrong, and the FCC staff, which serves the public and not only the chairman, should have the backbone to block it.

The issue of national concern is the proposed merger between AT&T and BellSouth, two corporate hunks of the old Bell empire that want to get back together again. We are reminded that there was a reason to split them apart — the creation of competition. Since then, technology has changed, but the need for competition is as strong today as it ever was.

The telecom market should have as many viable players as it can support. The law should not foster media gigantism.

Martin and another commissioner, both Republicans, would approve the merger, and two others, both Democrats, would block it. A final commissioner, Republican Robert McDowell, worked as a lobbyist for the trade association Comptel in the seven years before accepting the post at the FCC, and has said he should not vote.

McDowell is acting as an honorable man. We support his decision.

Martin wants that vote, and so has asked the FCC legal staff for an opinion saying that it's OK for McDowell to ignore his ethical concern, just this once.

In other words, the FCC is to follow a rule of ethics at all times except when it interferes with powerful people getting what they want, and then the rule of ethics may be ignored.

That amounts to no ethics at all. Martin's request should be denied. Now is the time for the FCC staff to remember whom it works for: the American people.

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