Skip to main content

The Commission That Cried Wolf

Tuesday, 8:37 p.m.: I wish every day were Halloween.

Why? you ask, as well you might. The FCC’s last meeting was on Oct. 31 and it was able to get through not only votes on public agenda items but a public venting on media ownership issues, and all with plenty of time for commissioners and reporters to get home to the Trick or Treaters.

Perhaps a Thanksgiving morning meeting with a turkey and football game to get to would have sped up the process, but the FCC at 8:37 p.m. had yet to start a meeting that was supposed to start at 9:30 a.m., then at 11 a.m., then within a few hours after that. And the FCC’s posted announcement that it would finally start at 7:15 p.m. had fooled some scribes into getting dinners and prepping for action, only to be left waiting for the FCC’s version of Godot.

C-SPAN cameras were ready to roll, NPR was lining up interviews, all with the expectation of an FCC meeting that did not happen, at least in the hours most people are working and paying attention.

The 70/70 item, which gained prominence with FCC Chairman Kevin Martin leaking a key finding of the Video Competition Report to the New York Times, had in the intervening days become a political football being kicked around the commission in search of the three people it takes to push it over the goal line. While it looked a week ago like it would be the Patriots running the offense, it now looks more like the Miami Dolphins.

The commission has repeatedly failed to get its act together for public meetings, which some say represents the spirit of compromise that has them working past the 11th hour and others say is the chairman’s inability to control an agenda or muster a majority.

The leaks of this item, and Martin’s timetable for a vote on media ownership, to the Times have not helped the process any, prompting complaints from Democratic and Republican commissioners alike.

I’m sure there would have been fewer complaints if he had leaked them to, say, B&C. OK, clearly I’m getting punchy. Start this meeting! Start this meeting! Start this meeting!

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.