Newspaper-TV Combos & Lawsuit On the Way

As expected, the FCC today voted down party lines to all but eliminate the cross-ownership rule [see PDF of the press release]. It was a last-ditch rush job by Chairman Martin since his lame duckness is about to set in with the end of the Bush administration.

In his statement [PDF] Martin strenuously tries to defend himself, over the course of six pages, against the critics coming from many sides who said he didn’t allow enough time for public comment and consideration of this particular change, since he only announced it about a month ago. Martin complains,

For a year and half, I have attempted to respond to the legitimate concerns about conducting an open and transparent process with ample opportunity for public input. At each step along the way, as I was crossing the goal line, the goal posts were moved.

Those observing from the outside–including Martin’s fellow commissioners whom he also kept in the dark–would choose to differ. We’d say that the proceeding has been marked by a distinct “hurry up and wait” pacing, set by the Chairman, culminating in an unnecessary push.

With regard to the last public hearing in Seattle, in his statement [PDF] Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps describes a much less transparent, and much more sneaky scenario:

On November 2, 2007—with just a week’s notice—the FCC announced that it would hold its final media ownership hearing in Seattle. Despite the minimal warning, 1,100 citizens turned out to give intelligent and impassioned testimony on how they believed the agency should write its media ownership rules. Little did they know that the fix was already in, and that the now infamous New York Times op-ed was in the works announcing a highly-detailed cross-ownership proposal. …

Their comments were not going to be part of the agency’s formulation of a draft rule—it was just for show, to claim that the public had been given a chance to participate. The agency had treated the public like children allowed to visit the cockpit of an airliner—not actually allowed to fly the plane, of course, but permitted for a brief, false moment to imagine that they were.

Given that there’s no real surprise here, the media reform community is hitting the ground running. The Media Access Project — which won the lawsuit overturning the FCC’s 2003 attempt to capriciously loosen ownership rules — has already threatened to take the Commission to court unless Congress steps in first.

There were some other decisions today, too, but I haven’t had a chance to digest them yet.

Be sure to tune in to this Friday’s radioshow live (5:30 PM CST on WEFT 90.1 FM Champaign, IL, on the radio and online) or archived to hear DIYmedia‘s John Anderson and I give a full run-down of the meeting.

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