Martin rebuffed for violating FCC’sÂ “un, deux, trois” rule
The Federal Communications CommissionÂ delayed then cancelledÂ the public meeting that had been scheduled for yesterday because Chairman Kevin Martin Â tried to force a vote on some mild form of cable table reregulation without getting the prior approval of two of his five fellow commissioners. Martin, a republican, may have figured he could guilt-trip two fellow republicans into supporting his attempt to exert some control over cable in return for lifting the media cross-ownership caps that prevent Rupert Murdoch from buying whatever TV stations he does not already own.
But apparently Marton violated the only rule that matters at the FCC — who has three of five votes.
IfÂ you have just parachuted into thisÂ blog and are unfamiliar withÂ the “cross ownership” debate here’s the deal: in 1975 the FCC instituted a rule stop newspaper barons from acquiring TV stations in cities where they also owned dailies. (This Wikipedia entryÂ says the FCCÂ “grandfathered already-existing crossownerships, such as Tribune-WGN, New York Times-WQXR and the New York Daily News ownership of WPIX Television and Radio).
Fast forwardÂ two or three decades.Â Media companies, inspired by a newÂ urge to merge, entreatÂ the FCC to reverse thatÂ cross-ownership ban. This 2001 article in USA Today willÂ talk about the first time Big Media tried and ultimately failed to lift the cross-ownership ban. In this 2007 articleÂ USA Today reporter David Lieberman explains theÂ current rationale for lifting the ban.Â (LiebermanÂ also wrote that 2001 article; but I do not see a more cross-ownership update inÂ his recent archive.)
In aÂ snarky posting yesterday I suggested that the FCC had a ruleÂ — no matter could be broughtÂ to a public vote on the five-member commission unless some faction had a three-person majority. I was being snotty. Turns out I was factually correct!Â Paid Content editorÂ Staci Kramer summarized yesterday’s debacleÂ thusly:
“FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has postponed the commissionâ€™s monthly public meeting . . . Â he couldnâ€™t convince the two colleagues needed to make a majority to go along . . . .Â The 9:30 a.m. meeting was postponed first until 11 a.m., and then indefinitely (and after a late-night meeting — a curious thing for a public body! — KramerÂ added:) . . . Late-night meeting: After dropping plans to force arbitration and postponingâ€”for months, this time,â€”a vote on theÂ (cable) rule, Martin managed to get a couple of votes through in a two-hour meeting the NYT called “acrimonious.” “
Public officials in theÂ state of California could never have behaved in such a shameless fashion. Our state imposes open meeting rules upon its officials. It does not allow them to gatherÂ whenever and wherever they pleaseÂ to decide matters affecting the public. They must follow rules. The five members of the FCC, by contrast, can meet whenever, wherever, and with whomever they please toÂ do any godamn thing they choose — a complaintÂ made more politely inÂ thisÂ September 2007 auditÂ thatÂ theÂ General Accountability OfficeÂ sentÂ to Congress.
Which is why, of course, it is so noteworthy that Chairman Martin forgot theÂ one rule that FCC does obey. Repete, s’il vous plait:Â un, deux, trois!
IÂ use the FrenchÂ in honor of Balzac, the novelist who captured the simpering stupidity ofÂ Parisian bureaucracyÂ circa 1824. IÂ scanned a plot summary of his novel, “The Government Clerks,” or “Bureaucracy,”Â and itÂ struck me thatÂ his characters would feel at home in Washington, D.C.Â Perhaps the French are right when they say: La plus ca change, la plus c’est le meme chose.”