Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin said he will not put off a Dec. 18 vote on media ownership rules. That came in a heated exchange with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) Thursday during a Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing on telecommunications that featured all five FCC commissioners.
The committee already passed a bill that would block a Dec. 18 vote on Martin's proposal to loosen the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban. Committee Democrats, led by Byron Dorgan (N.D.), have been critical both of the proposal and Martin's decision to publish it Nov. 13 in The New York Times rather than through the formal FCC process.
Dorgan, who has been the Hilol's most vocal critic of the Martin proposal and process, was called away to a meeting on an appropriations bill, with Kerry taking over as the toughest questioner. But before he left, Dorgan said that it would be a "serious mistake" for Martin to move forward.
Martin's resolve came in the face of opposition from Kerry and committee co-chairmen Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who said they wished he would put off the vote. But Stevens conceded there probably was not enough time to block the vote legislatively, and Martin said that he had conducted an open process with plenty of opportunity for comment but that it was now time to move the process forward with a vote.
In an exchange with the chairman, Kerry asked why, in the face of bipartisan committee opposition, the input of "countless witnesses" at public hearings and a bill passed out of committee that would block the vote, the chairman was intent on moving forward with the vote.
Martin pointed out that he was not loosening national or local TV or radio ownership caps and said, as he has repeatedly said before, that what he was proposing was a conservative change to a rule that Democrat and Republican chairmen before him agreed needed changing, that a court agreed needed changing, and that the public had had a chance to weigh in on over 18 months, in eight public hearings, and in thousands of pages of comment.
Kerry asked why Martin was basing his defense of the change on the financial distress of newspapers, a point Kerry did not concede, when the FCC was not charged with regulating newspapers.
Martin said it was charged with considering the impact of its decision on newspapers, and the impact the 1975 ban on crossownership might have had on the health of local news.
Martin told Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) that he thought a week was enough time to review the comments supplied by Dec. 11 by those weighing in on that Dec. 18 vote.
Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill said Martin would be a remarkable public leader if, in light of the bipartisan opposition to the Dec. 18 vote, he proceeded, saying, "if you move ahead, you are a braver man than I am."
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