Clear sailing for FCC nominees


It was a love fest on Capitol Hill as members of the Senate Commerce Committee quizzed FCC nominees Mignon Clyburn (D) and Meredith Attwell Baker (R) about their views on key communications issues. Senators from both sides of the aisle had only favorable comments to make about the nominees. Much of the talk was about broadband, but broadcasting issues got some play in the hearing.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) made sure she got both nominees on the record about the Fairness Doctrine, which the senator doesn’t want to see brought back in any form.

“I believe that the Fairness Doctrine should not be reinstated in any form, any way, shape or form. The FCC, I believe, is not in the business of censoring speech or content on the basis of political views and opinions,” said Clyburn.

“I’m very concerned about any move to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, either directly or indirectly, given the variety and diversity of information sources that are now available to consumers. And I too have been very pleased with the statement of Chairman Genechowski, who also has said he believes strongly in the First Amendment and does not think that the FCC should be involved in censorship of content of political speech or opinion,” was the response from Baker.

Where the two nominees refused to be nailed down was the subject of media ownership.

Baker noted that the subject of ownership rules ignites “great passion.” As for how she’ll deal with it, “The principles that the FCC looks at is localism, diversity of ownership and also diversity of viewpoints and competition.” But she also noted that there have been changes in the marketplace, with traditional media “struggling.” As for solutions, she said as an FCC Commissioner she’d like to continue to work with the Senate committee to find “answers.” In other words, she left all options open.

Clyburn said she was wary of media consolidation, but agreed that the landscape is changing. So she said the FCC will be looking closely at the issue. “But I also want to affirm that I believe that a cacophony of voices over our airwaves is a benefit to all Americans,” she noted.

After the gentle questioning – in contrast to the grilling that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Satomayor was getting in another hearing room, which one senator noted had more TV cameras present – senator after senator indicated that they expected both Clyburn and Baker to be approved and fill the FCC to its prescribed five members. It may take just a few days now for the committee to give its assent, which appears likely to be unanimous, and then  for the full Senate to vote on the nominees.

RBR/TVBR observation: We particularly liked Clyburn’s willingness to give straight answers to most of the questions. We hope that becoming part of the Washington scene won’t curb that inclination.