Anybody expecting major fireworks from yesterday’s FCC oversight hearing at the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet was in for a disappointment. However, differences of opinion were expressed and a solid divide between the two political parties was evident.
In general, Democrats think, as expressed by Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA), that considering the proposed elimination of the cross-ownership ban in the top 20 markets on 12/18/07 is premature, and that it should follow further in-depth study and comment. Further, it should not be done until issues of localism and minority/female ownership are more thoroughly dealt with. Markey said diversity of ownership is the only way to promote diversity of viewpoint, and while praising Martin for avoiding blanket deregulatory moves, wants the brakes applied now.
Republicans, on the other hand, said repeatedly that Martin’s plan did not go far enough. The cross-ownership rule should go away, period, and Subcommittee Ranking Fred Upton (R-MI) said that radio rules should be eased to allow a 10-station cluster in markets with 60-74 stations and a 12-station cluster should be allowed where there are 75 or more stations.
Greg Walden (R-OR) just left the ranks of radio ownership as sale of this small-market Oregon radio group just closed. He pointed out that often the benefits of consolidation are most keenly felt in small markets where size enables levels of service taken for granted in larger markets, like local news staff.
Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) foreshadowed the investigation of FCC procedure being initiated by Bart Stupak’s (D-MI) Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, talking of sniping and short-circuited procedures, and noted that Republican and Democratic commissioners alike must promote an open and civil dialogue. He wondered if there was a lack of fairness and transparency. This topic figures to be on the agenda at some point in the near future.