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Public Statements

Letter to Kevin J. Martin, Federal Communications Commission Chairman

House Democrats Urge FCC Chairman To Abandon Expedited Plan For Massive Media Consolidation

Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) today helped lead a group of 42 House Democrats in urging Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin J. Martin to abandon his recently announced plan to quickly move forward with changes designed to weaken media ownership rules. The House members expressed strong concerns over further consolidation, the failure of the FCC to thoroughly and objectively study media ownership issues, and the lack of adequate time for the public to submit comments on the proposed changes.

"...We hope that you will immediately take steps to resolve significant shortcomings in your plan regarding accountability, transparency, and scientific integrity," Hinchey and his 41 colleagues wrote in a letter sent to Martin today. "...We are highly alarmed by news that you plan to hold a commission vote on these proposed changes within the next two months. Such action would make public comment on the new rules impossible. After all of the controversy that this proceeding has generated over the past four years, we believe that another round of public commentary is essential before a final vote. At its heart, the debate over the future of media ownership in America is a debate over the future of our democracy. Therefore, we hope you will agree that the Federal Communications Commission must do everything it can to be able to honestly say that it is ending this proceeding after having considered every factor on behalf of the public whose airwaves it purports to represent."

News reports last week indicated that Martin has begun circulating a proposal with the FCC to radically change media ownership rules in the country, including the repeal of a rule that prohibits a company from owning a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same city. It was also reported that Martin's plan includes loosening restrictions on the number of radio and television stations one company can own in a single city.

In their letter to Martin, the House members argued that the ten studies the FCC commissioned this year to examine various issues associated with media consolidation were seriously flawed. Following up on a letter sent to Martin in September by many of the same House Members, the letter sent today outlines various concerns over the 10 studies, including: "the FCC's failure to reveal how it recruited individuals to conduct these studies; the agency's subsequent hiring of one of the authors to be its new chief economist (raising troubling questions regarding conflicts of interest); confusion over how the FCC decided to focus the research on its ten chosen topics; and serious mismanagement of the peer review process that is normally used to guarantee the scientific validity of the generated work."

The House members also criticized Martin for moving forward with plans for major rules changes before the FCC completes its sixth and final promised public hearing on the current state of media ownership rules and also before the agency takes time to review the comments submitted during those forums. The five previous hearings have been widely attended with people staying late into the evening to voice their concerns over media ownership rules.

"Chairman Martin's proposal would only serve to further shrink an already limited diversity of opinion found among American news outlets," Hinchey said, "His plan is the exact opposite of what is needed in this country. The FCC ought to be looking for ways to expand the variety of viewpoints and diversity of ownership rather than limiting and further consolidating them."

In 2003, the FCC sought to make massive changes to media ownership rules, but those efforts were rejected three years ago when the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia ruled that the agency failed to adequately justify the rule changes. During the public comment for the 2003 proposed rule changes, the FCC received more than three million comments against media consolidation.

Hinchey is the founder and chairman of the Future of American Media (FAM) Caucus in Congress. The FAM Caucus is open to members of both parties and it neither supports nor opposes any particular industry stakeholder. The FAM Caucus' goal is to educate members and staff about media issues before Congress and to ensure that all parties - especially the American public - have a chance to participate in the vital debate over media policy.

Joining Hinchey in sending the letter to FCC Chairman Martin were: U.S. Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), George Miller (D-CA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), David Price (D-NC), Tom Allen (D-ME), Betty Sutton (D-OH), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Mike Honda (D-CA), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Bob Filner (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Ed Pastor (D-AZ), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Jim Moran (D-VA), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Al Green (D-TX), Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), Susan Davis (D-CA), David Obey (D-WI), Diane Watson (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), John Olver (D-MA), David Wu (D-OR), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Jay Inslee (D-WA), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jim Cooper (D-TN), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), José Serrano (D-NY), Darlene Hooley (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Mark Udall (D-CO).

The text of the letters sent from Hinchey and his 41 colleagues to Martin follows:

October 25, 2007

The Honorable Kevin J. Martin
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Martin:

We write to express our grave shock and dismay over reports that you are circulating draft media ownership rules among your colleagues at the Federal Communications Commission. We understand that you intend to try to finalize these rules by the end of this calendar year. We believe that such actions are reminiscent of the bad behavior that resulted in an intervention by the Third Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals in your agency's efforts on media ownership three years ago. Therefore, we hope that you will immediately take steps to resolve significant shortcomings in your plan regarding accountability, transparency, and scientific integrity.

Your effort to advance these rules is taking place before the FCC holds its promised sixth and final public hearing on the state of our current media ownership rules. Furthermore, the most recent hearing, in Chicago, IL, only took place on September 20, 2007. It is our understanding that each of the hearings held by the agency have been very heavily attended, with people staying into the late evening in order to make their opinions known. Therefore, we have great difficulty understanding the propriety of moving forward on new media ownership rules before the commission has held its final event. In addition, we cannot comprehend how your staff could possibly have fully analyzed the public comments submitted in Chicago before you began to circulate these new rules.

In addition, we are very troubled by the agency's handling of ten reports on media ownership that it had drafted to help inform its decisions on these media ownership policies. There are a significant number of problems with these reports, including: the FCC's failure to reveal how it recruited individuals to conduct these studies; the agency's subsequent hiring of one of the authors to be its new chief economist (raising troubling questions regarding conflicts of interest); confusion over how the FCC decided to focus the research on its ten chosen topics; and serious mismanagement of the peer review process that is normally used to guarantee the scientific validity of the generated work. Adding insult to injury, the FCC's public comment period on the media ownership reports remains open, making yet another instance where the agency is moving forward without sufficiently consulting the public.

Finally, we are highly alarmed by news that you plan to hold a commission vote on these proposed changes within the next two months. Such action would make public comment on the new rules inadequate. After all of the controversy that this proceeding has generated over the past four years, we believe that another full round of public commentary is essential before a final vote.

At its heart, the debate over the future of media ownership in America is a debate over the future of our democracy. Therefore, we hope you will agree that the Federal Communications Commission must do everything it can to be able to honestly say that it is ending this proceeding after having considered every factor on behalf of the public whose airwaves it purports to represent.

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your prompt reply

Sincerely,

Maurice Hinchey and his 41 House colleagues named above


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