Dorgan comes out with guns blazing


If the FCC is planning to act on media ownership by 12/18/07, "they should understand they are going to be in for a huge battle." That is how Byron Dorgan (D-ND) opened up yesterdays Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the Future of Radio, and it was the entire theme of his subsequent press conference which also included Trent Lott (R-MS).

At the press conference, Dorgan said that until an in-progress FCC study of localism begun under former Chairman Michael Powell is completed, along with study of public interest standards and minority/female ownership, any talk of rule changes is premature. He said that the announcement that current FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wished to shoot for a 12/18/07 vote on the topic caught the Senate by complete surprise.

Lott, who reminisced about his days providing reports to a local radio station from his high school in the Pascagoula-Moss Point MS area, said that kind of programming has virtually disappeared. "The FCC must first establish that there are mechanisms in place to make sure broadcasters are serving their local communities." And once that’s been done, the FCC should proceed on the basis of assessing what rules are in the public interest, not what rules can be successfully relaxed.

Dorgan is certain he has "massive" support among Senate Democrats, and Lott, who said this is a bipartisan issue, expects to have supporters from his side of the aisle as well.

A 12/18/07 vote is likely to draw the same Resolution of Disapproval that it did four years ago. RBR asked why the Senators don’t just write rules themselves, as Congress did with the conference-committee law putting the national television audience cap at 39%. Dorgan said they’re still trying to find the closet in which that plank became law, but added that it is the FCC’s job to write regulations. Other legislative tactics may come into play, but he said, "We would hope that the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission would not try to ram this through by December 18." Dorgan said there was no urgency to the matter. They were unaware that the principals in the pending sale of Tribune Company may have a different view of that, but said that regardless, one business transaction should not be the basis for a body of regulation.