Archive | June, 2004

Mikey Powell Might Step Down, This Can Only Improve the FCC

Chairman Powell’s future at the FCC is primarily dependent on November’s election — if Kerry wins, he’ll appoint a Democrat as FCC chair, and Powell most certainly won’t stay on for that. However, the LA Times speculates that Powell may be preparing a post-election exit, regardless of outcome.

Apparently, major telecomm lobbyists share this prediction, and are working hard to push their agendas while Powell’s still around.

Without a doubt, Powell is one of the worst FCC chairs in recent memory. Despite seeming to be somewhat tech literate, Powell has a very shallow understanding of economics and political realities. He claims obedience to the “free market,” which is really more of an obedience to the media and telecomm industry, whose interests he does a rotten job of balancing. Hence, he’s come to loggerheads with fellow Republican Commissioner Kevin Martin who has a much more nuanced and informed understanding of telecomm economics and politics.

On top of that, he has a tin ear when it comes to anything sounding remotely like the public interest, seen most vividly in how he pushed through the media rules loosening initiative, with no plans to hold public hearings, despite the fact that the Commission received more public comments on this issue than any other initiative in FCC history.

Finally, Powell demonstrates a very poor grasp of regulatory law, evidenced strongly in the recent Third Circuit Court decision against his pet media ownership deregulation package. The Court summed up Powell’s overall approach when it characterized the FCC as relying on “irrational assumptions and inconsistencies.”

Having a Powell-less FCC can only be a good thing, though you always have to be suspicious about the successor. If Bush steals…er, “wins” the next election, then the choice for next chair will be either Kathleen Abernathy or Kevin Martin. Between the two of them, Martin has a clearly more sophisticated understanding and approach. Abernathy has mostly been a yes-woman to Powell and demonstrates no greater skills than his — at best, she doesn’t appear quite as bull-headed as Powell.

If Kerry wins in November, Michael Copps appears to be the most likely new chair. On the plus side, he’s taken a strong stand and role in opposing the push to accelerate media consolidation through loosening media ownership rules. On the minus side, he’s also been the strongest proponent of cracking down on so-called indecency. Still, he’s smarter and much more principled than Powell.

In any event, we won’t end up with a good FCC, just maybe one that’s a little less evil.

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Summary of Court Decision Against FCC Onwership Rules

The Media Access Project is the public interest law firm that represented Prometheus in their suit against the FCC. They’ve posted a useful summary of the Court’s decision in PDF format on a page with links to their statement, the full text of the decision and various press accounts.

As the summary makes clear, the FCC’s rules are not completely thrown out. Rather, the stay which the Court put in place at the beginning of the trial remains in place, until the FCC satisfies the Court in rewriting and justifying ownership rules.

Thus, it’s important to keep in mind that we will be seeing further review and work on media ownership rules from the FCC. What we hope is that Powell learned a bit of lesson–if he’s capable of it–that the public will need to be heeded more this time.

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The FCC “Driven More by Marketplace Ideology than by… Communications Laws”

Salon’s Eric Boehlert, one of the best journalists working the media beat for a mainstream outlet, reports on the Court’s decision on the FCC’s ownership rules. A choice tidbit:

“The court’s finding on Thursday highlights what critics had been suggesting all along: that the FCC failed to do its legal homework — and therefore the explanation it presented for the need to allow radical consolidation by the country’s largest media players did not stand up to scrutiny. Critics also complained that the commission’s interests were driven more by marketplace ideology than by the country’s existing communications laws. Specifically, the court rejected the FCC’s assertion that the 1996 Telecommunications Act required the FCC to gradually loosen ownership rules unless evidence could be shown to warrant keeping them in place. The court agreed with FCC critics who insist that the Telecommunications Act requires the opposite: that media ownership rules remain in place unless sufficient evidence is presented that they need to be loosened.”

This very fact has been crystal clear in everything that has ever come out of Chairman Michael Powell’s mouth since he took office.

It was obvious that this purely ideological obedience to the so-called “free market” would dictate the FCC’s treatment of the ownership rules review from the very start.

The rules review was kicked off in October 2002 with the release of a series of reports on different aspects of media ownership. Even then, I observed that,

For the most part, these reports are heavily econometric, relying on supposed “hard data” that mostly amounts to things they can count without too much effort. No surprise, then, that the bulk of these studies conclude that there is more media choice and overall more diversity… since 1960, that is. …

Essentially, these reports set no standards, and simply try to quantify if there’s more or less of whatever. They utterly fail to address questions of better or worse, or even conjecture how to measure better or worse. …

So, what the FCC’s handed us is a facade of hard data that favors whatever conclusion the FCC wants to lean toward. Look behind the facade and you’ll see Chairman Powell holding it up.

It’s heartening that a Court of Appeals is able to see through Powell’s shallow, dunderheaded, ideological kneejerk, especially since so many of the FCC’s recent regulatory attempts in the ownership arena have been bounced back by the DC Court of Appeals, too.

It becomes increasingly clear that the legal abilities of the FCC’s staff are questionable (or pushed to the periphery of the Chairman’s free market tunnel vision) , and that media industry lobbyists have more influence there than the law.

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More on the FCC Court Decision: Prometheus’ Press Release & Link to the Decision Itself

Looks like I have some fun reading ahead of me tonight, since I’ll want to be able to comment cogently on this decision on tomorrow’s radioshow. In the interim, you can read the court decision yourself — the Media Access Project has a pdf of it hosted on their site (warning: it’s 218 pages).

Prometheus Radio Project is the group that brought the suit challenging the FCC’s rules, so here’s their take on the decision, in the form of a press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: FEDERAL COURT PRESERVES STAY OF RULES, CALLS FCC DEREGULATORY TENDENCIES ‘IRRATIONAL’ AND ‘INCONSISTENT’


Contact: Pete Tridish, 215.727.9620, 215.605.9297, petri@prometheusradio.org

Contact: Hannah Sassaman, 215.727.9620, 267.970.4007, hannahjs@prometheusradio.org

In a lengthy decision of over 200 pages, the Third District Court today
told the Federal Communications Commission that its attempts to further
deregulate the American media system are unjustified. The court
determined that the FCC relied on “irrational assumptions and
inconsistencies” in determining the new cross-ownership caps, and ordered
them to make a new decision that takes seriously their duty to regulate
media to preserve the public interest.

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Court Overturns FCC’s Loosened Media Rules, Sends Them Back for Review

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals today overturned the FCC’s loosened media rules, ordering the FCC to take a second shot at it. According to a post at Reclaim the Media:

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, President and CEO of the Media Access Project, and lead counsel for the citizens groups in Promtheus Radio Project v. FCC, has issued the following statement as his first reaction to the decision of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversing the FCC’s June 2, 2003 decision deregulating media ownership. A longer statement will follow:

Mr. Schwartzman said:

“We’re doing high four and a halves. This is a big, big win for diversity. It looks like the court agreed with us that preserving democracy is more important than helping big companies grow bigger.

“It will take a few hours to sort it all out, but the Court has told the FCC to take its deregulatory thumb off the scale.”

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