Mr. Martin, We’re Ready For Your Close-Up Now

March 13th, 2008at 07:41am Posted by Eli

Ruh-roh:

Federal Communications Commission Chair Kevin Martin has two weeks to deliver a truckload of written records to Congress related to over a dozen hot-button FCC issues and policies. They’re being demanded by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell (D-MI), who sent Martin the request letter today, cosigned by Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the ranking Republican on the Committee.

The missive warns Martin that Dingell’s Committee is “investigating allegations from current and former FCC employees and other sources, which we have reason to believe are credible.” The charges concern “management practices that may adversely affect the Commission’s ability to both discharge effectively its statutory duties and to guard against waste, fraud, and abuse.”

It’s no secret that Martin and his subordinates are suspected of putting pressure on career FCC staff to emphasize data or produce studies that come to conclusions that the Chair likes. The biggest blowup concerns a 2003 study on television that suggested that locally owned TV stations produce more local news than nonlocally owned broadcasters´┐Żdistasteful data for supporters of relaxing the agency’s media ownership rules. When the FCC did not publish this document, Senator Barbara Boxer in 2006 accused the agency of “deep-sixing” the report. Eventually the Commission exonerated itself with an internal audit that a whistle blower in the case called “skewed in its judgments.”

Now Dingell wants all e-mails, handwritten notes, phone conversation records, meeting schedules, and whatever else exists in paper or electronic form since January 2005 involving the audit’s case file, plus all records related to:

  • The Commission’s conclusion in November of 2007 that the cable industry had reached the so-called “70/70” threshold. The Communications Act stipulates that when cable systems with 36 or more activated channels can be viewed by 70 percent of US households and when 70 percent of those households subscribe to them, the FCC can impose “additional rules necessary to promote diversity of information sources.” Up until last year the agency had consistently concluded that while big cable had surpassed the first prong of the test, it had not reached the second. Dingell’s letter specifically wants intel explaining why the FCC based its 2007 decision, which it eventually rescinded, entirely on Warren Communications company data and none other, including the information that the cable industry submits to the agency every year.
  • The FCC’s ten recently commissioned media ownership studies, and documents related to the agency’s decision not to change any of the Commission’s media ownership rules save the newspaper/TV cross-ownership ban.

And that’s only for starters. Dingell and Barton want Martin to hand over any directives involving “limitations or restrictions imposed on FCC employees’ ability to communicate with each other concerning official agency business”; records that illuminate the Commission’s policies on “communications between FCC personnel and outside entities”; documents that explain how the agency decided who would go to the recent World Radiocommunication Conference in Switzerland; a list of all new FCC employee hires and reassignments from March 2005 to the present; and the individual meeting schedules of all Commissioners and all Bureau Chiefs and the FCC’s Inspector General since January 2005.

This request has got to be turning the FCC completely upside down. Significantly, it appears to reflect a bipartisan discontent with Martin’s performance. Democrats and some Republicans are upset over his recent move to relax one of the agency’ key media ownership rules, as well as the rushed manner in which he handled the matter late last year. Other Republicans dislike what they see as Martin’s persecution of the cable industry, especially Comcast. The letter may even reflect some Republican dismay that Martin did not go further in relaxing the Commission’s broadcast ownership guidelines.

This kind of investigation is long overdue – the media are far too important and influential to let the FCC shirk or abuse its oversight duties. I assume Martin will invoke executive privilege and refuse to hand the records over. Or else claim that they’ve gone missing, or that they’ve been purged and there are no backup copies…

(h/t Engadget)

Entry Filed under: Corruption/Cronyism,Media,Republicans


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