FCC Member Mulls Piecemeal Approach

WASHINGTON The newest member of the Federal Communications Commission today said the agency might separately consider parts of media ownership rules.

The stance by Robert McDowell, a Republican who took office in June, indicates the agency could move quickly toward eased restrictions on newspaper owners buying nearby broadcast stations.

“I would be open to it. It makes a certain amount of logical sense,” said McDowell, when asked if the ownership rules under review could be considered separately.

Rules the FCC is updating include those limiting ownership of multiple TV and radio stations within markets, and that prohibit common ownership of daily newspapers and nearby broadcast stations.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has singled out the cross-ownership restriction as ripe for revision. McDowell’s arrival gave him the partisan majority often needed to push through controversial policies.

The commission’s two Democrats have warned against considering rules piecemeal, saying each affects the other.

McDowell spoke at a briefing for reporters at FCC headquarters in Washington. “There’s a lot of logic in how it appears that it’s going to start, which is have it done in smaller pieces,” McDowell said. “Instead of doing it as an omnibus [proceeding], as one big kidney stone to pass, let’s break it into more manageable, bite-sized pieces.”

The FCC chairman sets the agency’s agenda, and McDowell emphasized he was not speaking for Martin.

McDowell’s arrival gave Martin his first partisan majority since taking office 16 months ago. Martin had previously contended with a commission split 2-to-2 between Democrats and Republicans, and for a few months was even the sole Republican commissioner.

McDowell, a telephone association executive until joining the commission, could cast major votes on media ownership and cable carriage rules. His term runs through 2009.