By: Todd Shields
(Mediaweek.com) The lone Democrat on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Thursday he will hold hearings outside Washington on media ownership regulations that are under review at the agency — and will do so himself if necessary.
The move by Commissioner Michael Copps puts pressure on Republican Chairman Michael Powell, who has withheld support for such hearings.
Copps said his hearings would not be the first time a commissioner has held hearings without the full FCC, but he could not say when his predecessors might have done so.
He added that he did not know whether incoming Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein would join the hearings. On Tuesday, Republican Commissioner Kevin Martin expressed support for additional hearings before the agency decides the rules’ fate.
“This is not an inside-the-Beltway issue,” Copps said at a press briefing in his Washington office. He said he would hold hearings as soon as possible, and by early 2003 at the latest. He did not specify cities for the hearings, but said they could be held in the mid-Atlantic, the South, the Midwest, and the far West.
The FCC is considering whether to eliminate or relax a host of restrictions on media ownership, including the rules that keep major networks from buying one another, that limit each network to owning stations that reach 35% of the national TV audience, and that prohibit joint ownership of a daily newspaper and a nearby broadcast station.
Agency officials say they expect to decide the rules by late spring. Copps said any additional hearings would not delay that schedule. He said he hoped to gather “a majority” of his fellow commissioners, who currently number three Republicans. A Democrat, Adelstein, is to join the commission within days, bringing it up to its full five-member complement.
Copps also said the FCC should consider broadening its indecency standard. Copps said he had received 250 to 300 e-mail messages protesting the Victoria’s Secret fashion show that appeared Wednesday night on CBS, featuring scantily clad models.
Copps withheld an opinion on whether that program was offensive, saying he had not watched it.