House Goes After FCC Ruling

WASHINGTON A bipartisan group of lawmakers has filed a measure aimed at nullifying the controversial Federal Communications Commission rule that would end the 32-year-old ban on radio and television broadcasters owning newspapers in the nation’s largest media markets.

The House version of the “legislative veto” unveiled by five congressmen on Thursday is a companion to a similar “resolution of disapproval” introduced in the Senate this month.

“Consolidation already has brought us to the point where two companies control 70 percent of market revenue in an average radio market,” said U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., the resolution’s prime sponsor and a member of the House Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FCC. “We need to use every tool available to prevent further weakening of media ownership rules.”

In December, the FCC approved a new cross-ownership rule that would end the ban on the common ownership of a daily newspaper and a television or radio station in the same market for the nation’s top 20 markets. It also would make it easier for the FCC to waive ownership rules in all markets.

Separately, according to a report released on Thursday by the General Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, only about 9 percent of the FCC’s completed investigations resulted in enforcement action, while 83 percent resulted in no enforcement.

The GAO said it could not determine why the investigations were closed without action because “FCC does not systematically collect these data.”

Congressional critics of the agency brandished the report as indicating the commission’s lack of respect for the consumers it is supposed to protect.
“When more than 80 percent of complaints investigated by the FCC are closed without any meaningful enforcement action, and it isn’t possible to determine why no action was taken, then it appears that the FCC has abdicated its duty to protect consumers,” said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.

Dingell, chairman of the House Commerce Committee, has launched a wide-ranging investigation into FCC practices. On Wednesday he asked the agency for a potential treasure trove of documents as he seeks to ferret out possible misconduct.

While agency officials admitted that their record keeping needed to be modernized, they defended their actions.

“Since I became chairman, the Enforcement Bureau is responding to 100 percent of consumer complaints,” said FCC chairman Kevin Martin. “Additionally, under my chairmanship, the commission has collected a record amount of fines, forfeitures and consent decree payments.”