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FCC Chairman Denies Requests to Postpone Vote

BY Admin  May 16, 2003 at 12:00 PM EST

FCC commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps asked Powell on Tuesday to delay the June 2 vote, so they could “examine [the] public interest implications” of lifting current restrictions on corporate ownership of media companies.

Copps and Adelstein — the two Democrats on the five-member board — said the proposed rule changes should be revealed to the public and fully debated at open hearings before the agency made its final decision early next month.

“When the Commission is considering significant changes that could unalterably remake our media landscape for years to come, we believe it is prudent to have a transparent process that ensures we understand the full implications of our decisions. Such an open forum is especially critical for issues of this magnitude,” the commissioners wrote in a letter to Powell.

In refusing the request, Powell cited an appellate court decision ordering the FCC to revise the regulations within a set timetable, as well as the opposition of the two Republican commissioners, Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin, for delaying the vote.

“There is precedent for granting such a request, but it is not customary to do so over the strong objections of majority of commissioners who are prepared to proceed,” Powell wrote in his statement to Adelstein and Copps.

“When the judiciary reverses our rules, especially ones intended to promote core First Amendment values, it is incumbent on us to repair the shortcomings as quickly as possible,” Powell stated.

Barring a court-ordered extension or congressional action, Powell’s decision means that the new FCC rules will come into effect this summer.

Commissioner Abernathy on Tuesday expressed her opposition to extending the vote by a month, saying “for both legal and policy reasons we should move forward with the June 2nd meeting.”

“The Commission has a statutory obligation to review our broadcast ownership rules every two years. We are already behind schedule, as June 2003 is past the date by which our 2002 biennial review should have been completed,” Abernathy said in a prepared statement.

“We have the information and input we need to make a sound, judicially sustainable decision that will benefit the public interest,” Abernathy said, addressing Copps’ concern over the lack of public knowledge about the upcoming decision.

For the June 2 vote, the FCC is reportedly preparing to lift the restrictions which presently bar companies from owning more television stations in a single market and from owning both a newspaper and a television or radio station in large and medium-sized markets. The FCC may also allow broadcast networks to purchase additional television stations, enabling them to reach 45 percent of U.S. households, instead of the current the 35 percent cap.