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House Judiciary Chairman Asks Tough Questions of FCC Chairman

Saying that he is concerned about the Federal Communications Commission's decision-making process and FCC chairman Kevin Martin's approaches to the media-ownership-rule review and the issue of cable a la carte, House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) asked Martin to answer a number of tough questions.

Conyers told the chairman in a letter Nov. 26 that he was concerned that Martin's initiatives on ownership and a la carte might "undermine diversity in video programming and media ownership." The chairman has proposed a limited lifting of the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership in large markets, although with opportunities for smaller-market combinations through waivers. His push for a la carte has been a theme of his tenure, with the chairman citing cable rates and content control.

Conyers also said he was concerned by reports that the chairman is not making draft rules available for comment, that he is proposing rules via press leaks and that the commission does not provide sufficient advance notice for public meetings.

Conyers asked for the answers to a number of questions "as expeditiously as possible," including:  whether the FCC would make all of its public-meeting dates avaliable at the beginning of next year; whether it will establish an independent minority task force before completing the media-ownership-rule review; whether the chairman believes the commission has the authority to mandate a la carte or abrogate programming contracts that require programming to be carried on a particular tier; tto supply any instances in which he has circulated draft rules before the public-comment period had ended or with less than one week of the period ending; and to identify any times he has talked with the press about the contents of rules under consideration prior to their adoption.