House Media Ownership Hearing to Be Continued

The House Communications Subcommittee's broadcast media ownership hearing, or at least the Q&A portion, was a victim of the surprise announcement Friday morning of the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), but subcommittee leaders said it will be extended/rescheduled.

The hearing start, which had already been moved from 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., was pushed back to 10 a.m., then later than that as the speaker informed the Republican caucus of his decision to leave, coming only a day after the speech to a joint session of Congress by Pope Francis that Speaker Boehner had engineered and celebrated.

Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), vice chairman of the subcommittee, presided over witness testimony, but it was pointed out there were 11 floor votes, the first of which they were already late for, and said committee members would follow up, but would not be able to ask questions. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the subcommittee, said she thought it was important to ask those questions and asked if the hearing could be left open and a time to reconvene and have a dialogue agreed on. Latta said they would work together to do that.

During the testimony, representatives of the National Association of Broadcasters, the Newspaper Association of America and Digital Content Next argued that the FCC's media ownership rules, particularly the newspaper-broadcast crossownership rule, were outdated and needed to be scrapped or loosened given the growing competition for viewers and ad dollars from pay TV and online outlets.

On the other side were representatives of Common Cause, the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council, and the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which all argued that the FCC's rules promoted competition and diversity and should be tightened, if anything. They argued that there was a consolidation arms race between pay TV and broadcast to the detriment of viewers, particularly diverse audiences, who did not see themselves in the programming or the executive suites.

The Republican leadership on the panel, at least in their opening statements since there was no back-and-forth, sided with the deregulatory arguments.

Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said, "Our laws were written for an era of limited voices. But this is an era of communications competition. Competition between broadcast news and cable news; competition between print journalism and online journalism; and competition between traditional media and new media. In an era of such intense competition, our laws should not unduly hamper the ability of any one segment to provide the high-quality content consumers have relied on for decades."

"Modern laws might have allowed broadcasters and newspapers to better weather the rise of the Internet or the economic impact of the recession, but that relief has not been forthcoming," said Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said that further consolidation would do nothing to help diversity or localism.

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.