FCC puts localism on the Halloween docket


The FCC’s October Open Meeting will include the final localism forum in the set begun way back under former Chairman Michael Powell. It will follow four other items in a meeting scheduled to run from 9AM until 2PM at FCC headquarters. And the announcement drew immediate fire both within and from outside the Commission.

Commissioners Michael Copps (D) and Jonathan Adelstein (D) issued a joint statement, saying "Tonight’s Public Notice doesn’t bode well for the future of the Commission’s localism and media ownership proceedings. Over two weeks ago, we agreed to clear our calendars for the possibility of a localism hearing in Washington on October 31st. But neither we nor the public received any confirmation that the hearing would occur until tonight — just five business days before the event. This is unacceptable and unfair to the public. And it makes putting together an expert panel nearly impossible. Is the Commission serious about allowing the public to participate in the agency’s decision-making? Or is the goal to be able to claim that hearings have been held, even if the public has not had a chance to fully participate?"

Watchdog Free Press piled on. Its Executive Director Josh Silver said, "Chairman Martin’s actions suggest that he’s never been serious about paying attention to the public. He’s already made up his mind, and is hell-bent on gutting the rules. This is a slap in the face to the vast majority of Americans who oppose consolidation and a direct insult to the bipartisan members of Congress who have called for a fair and transparent public process."
The agenda also includes a vote on a "directive that local franchising authorities not unreasonably refuse to award competitive franchises" looking to enter business where cable service is already established.

RBR/TVBR observation: It hasn’t been a good week for Chairman Martin. Conventional wisdom has it that his main goal is to loosen cross-ownership restrictions, which the Third Circuit almost praised while remanding the rules back to the FCC for changes or better justification. But in the absence of any firm guidance on just what changes are in the works, the imaginations of anti-consolidationists are free to run wild. Nonetheless, this may have worked better if Martin had announced back in July that he’d hold meetings on this and that date with an eye toward a 12/18/07 vote. The recent announcement of the December target date, and only after that the announcement of the localism meeting — with a Washington State public forum still to be worked in — does make this look like a rush job.