A trio of former FCC chairmen, Republican and Democrat, conceded in a C-SPAN interview two weeks ago that the reason the FCC did not remove the decades-old newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban during their tenures was because the commission was apparently swayed by threats, veiled or otherwise, from politicians concerned about the power of local media outlets to affect their political futures.
It should come as no surprise to broadcasters that it was not the strength of the argument for keeping the ban that prevented it from being rightfully consigned to the dustbin of history. The argument that broadcasting’s competitive marketplace should not include cable and the Internet when it comes to counting the voices that count was and is ridiculous, and gets increasingly more so.
Actually, the two Republican chairmen who came clean for the C-SPAN interview did muster enough votes for an initial attempt to scrap the ban (Michael Powell) and a later attempt to loosen it (Kevin Martin), but the first try was held up in court and the second actually went into effect, though it is also in court now.
But the fact remains that while these two Republicans—and former Democratic Chairman Reed Hundt—all agreed that the cross-ownership rule should be jettisoned, it has yet to be excised from the books.
The FCC is supposed to be an independent agency. Congress is the boss, or should be the boss, only in the sense that the FCC is supposed to implement the laws as Congress passes them and as they were intended to be implemented.
You would have to be naive, and we’re not, to assume politics isn’t always somewhere on the table.
For a Democratic FCC chairman to admit the only reason a legacy regulation harming broadcasters (our characterization, not his) is still on the books is because of Hill pressure should be a signal to hold this FCC’s feet to the fire and require it to render an independent judgment this time around.
The transcript should be read into the record of the FCC media ownership review as well as submitted as a “friend of the broadcasters” brief in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals as evidence that past commissions were derelict in their duty. And this one should not be allowed to follow them.
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