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.