JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, Congress considers the so-called cross-ownership debate. Kwame Holman has our Media Unit report.
REP. JOE BARTON (R), Texas: Some of us do support the relaxation of the cross-ownership rules, so you have a few friends on that issue.
KWAME HOLMAN: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin set off a media industry firestorm several weeks ago when he proposed ending the longstanding ban on one company owning both a newspaper and broadcast station in the same market. So when he and the four other FCC commissioners came before a House commerce panel today to discuss the plan, everyone expected a heated debate.
REP. JOHN DINGELL (D), Michigan: The FCC appears to be broken.
KWAME HOLMAN: Chairman Martin, a nominee of President Bush, was first called to task for how he arrived at his plan to allow newspaper companies to purchase TV stations in the 20 largest media markets. Michigan's John Dingell is chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
REP. JOHN DINGELL: In recent months, we've heard about many FCC agenda meetings postponed all day, while closed negotiations on important public matters were conducted. We have witnessed too much sniping amongst the commissioners, and we've heard too many tales of short-circuited decision-making processes.
KWAME HOLMAN: In a letter Monday, Dingell called on Chairman Martin to publish proposed rules in advance of meetings, allow more public review time, and give commissioners relevant information on proposed rules. Applied retroactively, that would block a scheduled December 18th vote on Martin's proposed loosening of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules. Martin defended that plan.
KEVIN MARTIN, Chairman, FCC: This relatively minor loosening of the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership in markets where there are many voices and sufficient competition would help strike a balance between ensuring the quality of local newsgathering while guarding against too much concentration. I believe the revised rule would balance the need to support the availability and sustainability of local news, while not significantly increasing local concentration or harming diversity.