Archive | January, 2005

Powell’s Legacy Already Fading: Justice Dept. Will Not Pursue Relaxed Ownership Rules

The Justice Dept. has decided not to pursue an appeal to the Third Circuit Court decision that put a stop to the FCC’s relaxed media ownerhip rules and ordered the Commission to reconsider them.

The relaxing of ownership rules is considered to be one of Mikey Powell’s biggest failures, costing him a significant amount of political capital with both parties, and especially the public. He turned a deaf ear to public concerns about media ownership, and then ignored the firestorm that blew up as a result of Powell’s pigheaded refusal to seriously consider public input.

On top of that, the decision relied on flawed research and reasoning that the Third Circuit called “Driven more by marketplace ideology than by… communications laws.”

This decision by the Justice Dept., which acts as the FCC’s legal counsel, indicates that the Bush Administration has no desire to get into this fray, regardless of how happy it would make the media barons. I don’t think this means that the Bushies are abandoning media ownership deregulation. However, I think it does mean that they are abandoning such a broad wholesale attempt.

Powell hung much of his chairship on media ownership deregulation and flubbed it majorly. The Justice Dept. dropping the issue shows that the Bushies think Powell flubbed it, too, and further convinces me that maybe Powell was pushed out — something I hypothesized last week. I really believe that if Powell was ready to leave, he would have announced it soon after the election. And perhaps his being kept on hinged on decisions about whether or not to challenge the Third Circuit’s decision.

The exit of Media Bureau chief Ken Ferree is the biggest indicator that the media ownerhip rules were the pivotal issue, since Ferree has been loyal to Powell on it, and his Bureau was the one making the recommendation on challenging the decision to the Supreme Court.

It’s important to note that even with the Third Circuit’s decision standing, the media ownership battle is not over yet. The FCC still must go back and revise the rules, as mandated by Congress and the Court. However, it does mean that the Commission has a chance to do it right, and that responisibility will fall on whoever the new chair is.

Free Press released a statement today that puts a point on it:

Today’s decision is not cause for celebration. It is a call to arms. The courts sent the FCC back to the drawing board to restart the entire rulemaking process, but the FCC is still dominated by industry pawns. …

FCC leadership – including whomever Bush nominates to replace those about to depart – must heed the call by Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein for nationwide public hearings on media ownership before taking up these rules again.

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FCC Media Bureau Chief Following Powell Out the Door

Radio and Records reports that Ken Ferree, the head of the FCC’s Media Bureau, which oversees all television and radio, is stepping down, coincident with Chairman Powell’s departure. A new head to this bureau won’t be appointed until there’s a new FCC chair.

Ferree has been a very loyal lieutenant to Powell, especially on media ownership issues, so his departure will likely mean that the next chair is a little more free to set his/her own agenda on these matters.

Earlier today I heard reports that Kathleen Abernathy, another Republican FCC commissioner, would be ending her term early. She had already stated that this term will be her last. However, Radio and Records reports that “a scurce close to [her]” sort of denies that by saying: “[Commissioner Abernathy] has made no such statement about her future.”

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DJ Johnny Silver Answers

I’ve posted twice about DJ Johnny Silver, who is operating unlicensed Iron Action Radio in Nyack, NY, and recently received some publicity in his local newspaper. In my posts I expressed concern about unlicensed operators pursuing widepublicity, given that it increases the risk of a bust.

Silver read my posts and sent me a thoughtful e-mail. He also posted a response to his blog, saying:

well I can tell you tonight I thought a lot about the purpose of this station and the risks I am taking, is it worth the fight, Yes..The goal here is not to be clandestine, and secret, but its to have the station be a focal point for the community of nyack, something this community does not have or will not have, based on the FCC frequency regulations.

Without being in Nyack to hear the station, it’s hard to tell exactly what’s up, but it seems like Iron Action has taken on more DJs. Silver also told me that he’s used wireless to separate his studio and transmitter, which is a very smart move.

I want to be clear that I’m not criticizing Iron Action Radio or Johnny Silver. I think it’s great if the station can become a valuable community resource, and it’s laudable to attempt to create such a resource.

Simply, I hate to see an unlicensed broadcaster take any unnecessary risks. In the recent past, when the FCC does strike, it has been striking hard. Even a very strategic operation that eluded the FCC for five years can still get busted, as happened to Boulder Free Radio a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, it looks like KBFR and Monk may be in for a big fight with the FCC.

As I said before, if you’re going to broadcast a pirate station out in the open, then community support is your best protection. It still won’t stop the FCC from busting you. But it raises the stakes and forces the Commission into looking like the bad guys beating up on the little guy who just wants to bring something better to his community’s airwaves.

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