From Matthew Lasar in Lasar's Letter on the FCC:
Presidential hopeful and U.S. Senator Barack Obama has asked the Federal Communications Commission Chair Kevin Martin to rethink its proposed timeline for revising the agency's media ownership rules. "According to press accounts, you intend to present specific changes to existing rules in November with a Commission vote on that proposal —whatever it may be—on December 18, 2007," Obama wrote to the Commission today. "I believe both the proposed timeline and process are irresponsible."
Last week The New York Times and Associated Press both ran stories suggesting that Martin wants to fast track a vote on the FCC's media ownership rules. Up for grabs are caps limiting how many newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations a single entity can own. Martin has long favored relaxing restrictions that would prevent an entity from owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same city.
The AP article reported that Martin plans to propose new media ownership rules soon, likely at a hearing on October 31. The public would be allowed to comment through mid-November and some of December. The Commission would vote on the proposal at a meeting on December 18. The Commission would also hold its last hearing on its media ownership provisions in Seattle on November 2nd, according to the story.
Obama's letter to the FCC said that he found it "disturbing" that the FCC is considering these changes. "It is unclear what your intent is on the rest of the media ownership regulations," he wrote. "Repealing the cross ownership rules and retaining the rest of our existing regulations is not a proposal that has been put out for public comment; the proper process for vetting it is not in closed door meetings with lobbyists or in selective leaks to the New York Times."
The statement calls for the FCC to create an independent panel to explore ways to further media ownership diversity, something that FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, a Democrat, has proposed. "In closing, I ask you to reconsider your proposed timeline, put out any specific change to the rules for public comment and review, move to establish an independent panel on minority and small business media ownership, and complete a proceeding on the responsibilities that broadcasters have to the communities in which they operate," the letter concludes.