Former FCC staffer questions sunshine


According to Michael Marcus, who took a job at the FCC back in 1979, shining a bright light on FCC activity may not be as big a factor as the management style of the chair. He said that openness and public notice are nice things, but the key to a functional agency is more a matter of leadership that encourages debate and respects the expertise of staff. Marcus noted that back then, under the chairmanship of Charles D. Ferris, the FCC was in fact much more of an open forum.

For starters, Marcus noted that the current monthly open meeting is the minimum required, and that under Ferris there was an open session almost every week, and sometimes twice. Presenting staff were closely questioned by the commissioners, and debate could go on for hours.

Blogging for Public Knowledge, Marcus suggested that regardless of the sunshine rules, it boils down to the chair. If the chair wants a collegial agency, it’s collegial; if the chair opts for a dictatorial style, it’s dictatorial. While changes may be advisable for current sunshine rules, he suspects such an update would have only minimal effect on how the agency functions.

RBR/TVBR observation: How do you excise politicization from the FCC? The commissioners are political appointees, and may of the issues have strong political implications. Current Chair Kevin Martin was appointed by a Republican president. Should anybody be surprised that he often pursues policy issues just as a Republican would?

Martin has been unique in that he seems to have often disappointed members of his own party. In many ways, he has also gone to extraordinary lengths to introduce sunshine, particularly compared to the prestidigitation of his predecessor Michael Powell, who unveiled his highly controversial ownership deregulation plans in one great big splash 6/2/03.

But not everything happens out in the open – it can’t – and despite his willingness to cross up his own party and his attempts to brighten the light, charges persist that Martin is overly aggressive in pursuing his own agenda. That may make his opponents angry, but shouldn’t that please his supporters?

We would make a suggestion to Congress – if you want to stop the FCC chair from doing something, like for instance, allow local broadcast and newspaper cross-owned combos in the top 20 DMAs, then pass a law prohibiting them. That will take the rogue out of the wildest of chairman.