Wednesday, December 05, 2007

FCC Chairman Martin To Be Investigated

There is hope! Variety reports that Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), head of the House Commerce Committee, plans to initiate an investigation of Chairman Martin's stewardship of the FCC. Rep. Dingell is questioning whether Martin is using questionable practices in order to push through his (and presumably, the administration's) agenda. I've been none-too-happy about the waiver that Martin sought (and received) for the Tribune, and question his policy in general on cross-ownership. Now it appears that Martin will have to answer for his conduct.

I am curious to see what will result from this investigation. The last time Congress got involved in an FCC matter, it was when Chairman Powell tried to push through new cross-ownership rules when the public at-large expressed strong opposition to the change. He originally tried to pass the new rules without public comment but was forced to change course in the face of public outrage; then, despite an overwhelming number of comments opposing the measure, he passed a measure to relax cross-ownership restrictions. Public opposition was so great, Congress had to step in and reverse the Chairman's new rules.

It seems unlikely that Congress would "undue" Martin's waiver for Tribune, mainly because the Tribune sale is supposed to close before the end of the year. Since Congress could not address the issue before then, it is unlikely that it would require Tribune to divest itself of media properties in order to comply with the law. However, Congress is sending a strong signal to Martin and could help reinstate some since of order in the agency.