Martin: No time like present

FCC topper nixes ownership delay

WASHINGTON -- The nation's top TV regulator refused to delay next week's vote at the FCC that seeks to make it easier for media companies to own newspapers and TV stations in the same city.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin told members of the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday that it was high time the commission made a final decision on the controversial plan.

"No," was Martin's response when Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., asked him if he would be willing to delay the vote scheduled for TuesdayDec. 18.

Kerry warned Martin that he was flirting with congressional reprobation by his insistence on action.

"You're about to make a decision with no understandable rationale against the interests of Congress," Kerry said. "Would you agree today in the face of those realities, to postpone this decision from several days from now?"

But Martin refused, contending that there was no way the commission could ever come to a decision that would satisfy everyone.

"I am not convinced that we would ever reach a consensus on media ownership," he said. "I think it is just too politically divisive."

Another member of the committee, Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., accused Martin of taking to heart the interest of the big media conglomerates rather than the American people, saying that the commission "appears to be more concerned about making sure the policies they advocate serve the needs of the companies they regulate and their bottom lines rather than the public interest."

Rockefeller threatened new legislation next year to "addresses the structure of the agency, its mission, the terms of the commissioners, and how to make the agency a better regulator, advocate for consumers and a better resource for Congress."

Martin wants to relax the FCC's newspaper-TV cross-ownership ban in the 20 biggest U.S. cities. The changes are likely to pass with the support of the other two Republican commissioners, Deborah Taylor Tate and Robert McDowell. The Democrats, commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, oppose the plan.

The committee already has approved legislation that would delay the FCC from voting on the issue for at least six months. The legislation has yet to be taken up by the full Senate, and no companion bill exists in the House.

Reuters contributed to this report.