FCC: It Could Get Worse

By Nichols, John; McChesney, Robert W. | The Nation, February 21, 2005 | Go to article overview

FCC: It Could Get Worse


Nichols, John, McChesney, Robert W., The Nation


On the long list of resignations of Cabinet members, agency heads and political appointees that has accompanied the launch of the second Bush term, no member of the Administration's team left under quite so dark a cloud as Michael Powell. The decision of the chair of the Federal Communications Commission to step down was met with near-universal sighs of relief--from the citizen activists and members of Congress who had battled his ham-handed efforts to allow Big Media to get even bigger, of course; but also from industry insiders who had come to see the hapless Powell as an inept champion. It was a measure of how thoroughly Powell had botched his primary mission--eliminating barriers to media consolidation and monopoly--that within days of the announcement of his impending departure, the Justice Department decided not to appeal the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit's ruling that struck down FCC rule changes that would have unleashed a new wave of conglomeration at the local and national levels.

But don't think that Powell's exit and the Justice Department's backing off mean the fight is done. As Representative Maurice Hinchey, the New York Democrat who was in the forefront of the fight against Powell's rule changes, notes, a bad turn has been avoided, but "we still have a long way to go toward achieving honest and balanced reporting" and toward the development of regulatory structures that "provide greater rights to smaller media outlets who too often are silenced by the media giants." Those giants haven't given up on their battle for bigness. And it appears that the Bush Administration is preparing to bring in new, potentially even more industry-friendly troops. With Powell leaving, there will be a reshuffling of the three-member Republican faction that now dominates the FCC. (Democratic commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, both critics of rule changes that would have allowed one company to own a newspaper, television and radio stations and other media in the same market, and that would have dramatically eased controls on the growth of national networks, will remain. But they will also continue to be on the weak end of a 3-to-2 partisan divide.)

Bush will definitely have an opportunity to appoint a new chair, and if, as some predict, former wireless industry lobbyist Kathleen Abernathy also leaves, he could radically reshape the commission. …

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