Senators to Martin: Slow down

FCC chair wants quick vote on media ownership

Congressional critics of the FCC's efforts to ease the regulations governing the ownership of media properties are vowing to slow, if not stop, chairman Kevin Martin's intention to move the plan before year's end.

Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Thursday in a letter to Martin that they "do not believe the commission has adequately studied the impact of media consolidation on local programming" in his push to win votes at the panel on the issue.

"The FCC should not rush forward and repeat mistakes of the past," the lawmakers wrote.

Dorgan and Lott want the commission to fold its examination of local programming and broadcaster community service, known as localism, into its proceedings on ownership. Martin so far has kept the two separate.

"We strongly encourage you to slow down and proceed with caution, maintaining the public interest goals of localism, diversity and competition as top priorities," the lawmakers wrote.

On Wednesday, officials said that Martin has circulated among the commissioners plans to ease ownership rules including relaxing regulations that bar one company from owning a newspaper and TV station in the same city.

While there are some such combinations in existence, they have been allowed under specific waivers of the rules.

Martin can likely count on the votes of Republican commissioners Deborah Tate and Robert McDowell, but it is unclear if he can win the support of Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein.

Other powerful lawmakers have expressed reservations about Martin's plan to push for a vote in December.

At the suggestion of Dorgan, Commerce Committee chairman Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said Wednesday that he wants to have a hearing on the subject.

"I am with him and we will have a hearing," Inouye said during a hearing on the transition to digital TV.

In 2003, the FCC relaxed decades-old rules restricting media ownership, permitting companies to buy more television stations and own a newspaper and broadcast outlet in the same city.

A federal appeals court later threw out those new regulations, saying the FCC hadn't done enough to prove that changes were needed.