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:

TodayÂ’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.