Senators tell FCC go on slow media consolidation vote

 Coalition Shocked (Shocked!) by FCC’s Secret Timetable

Last week it  was disclosed that Federal Communications Chairman Kevin Martin plans to hold a vote in December on whether to let Big Media get bigger by permitting newspaper owners to control television and radio stations in the same metropolitan area.

 In 2006 the Federal Communications Commission began reviewing the rules that limit so called cross-ownership of print and broadcast media in the same geography. The FCC tried to change these rules in 2002 to allow greater media consolidation but the was a huge public outcry led to congressional and court actions that reversed the rule-relaxation and maintained the status quo that bars newspaper-broadcast cross ownership.

Now Big Media is trying once again to get these rules relaxed, this time arguing that print and broadcast must combine to compete with Big Internet (background).

Earlier this week Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) sent a letter to Martin urging him not to allow further consolidation until “the FCC . . .  first establish(s)  sufficient mechanisms in place to ensure that the broadcasters are serving their local communities” before considering rule changes that would allow more consolidation.

The Coalition  issued a statement saying it was “Shocked by FCC’s Secret Timetable.” Oh, nonsense.  Secrecy — or more precisely, selective disclosure – is common at FCC according to a Sept. 2007 report from the General Accountability Office Report (pdf file) the agency that serves as the investigative arm of Congress.

The GAO said FCC often favored big lobbies by giving them access to agendas and other critical materials before their opponents.  According to page four:

“We are recommending that FCC take steps to ensure equal access to information . . . so that all stakeholders have the same information to inform their participation in the rule-making process. FCC took no position on our recommendations.”

USA Today reporter Paul Davidson wrote a tight, piece on this with good background. Give it a read if you have time.