FCC Chairman Kevin Martin: A Wholly Owned Bush WH Subsidiary, or Kevin Martin is really Michael Powell’s Political Twin

Soon, the Bush FCC will launch an effort to further consolidate control of a few over the nation’s major newspapers and T.V. stations. Martin is determined to accomplish what his predecessor Michael Powell was incapable of doing. Martin will allow major daily newspapers to be folded into T.V. empires (by eliminating the cross-ownership safeguard). He will also permit a single company to own several T.V. stations in the same town. As with Powell, Martin thinks it’s fine and dandy for one company to own multiple TV stations, eight radio stations, the newspaper, the cable system, and the principal broadband Internet service provider in a single large market. Also as with Powell, Martin appears to be also giving a cold shoulder to fellow Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein who want to see real public debate and a serious independent research review done prior to any decision-making. As with so many other FCC officials, past and present, Democratic and Republican, Martin has a “don’t ask, don’t tell me” policy when it comes to honestly addressing the current crisis in U.S. electronic media (recall TV’s failure to seriously cover the run-up to the war, among many other discouraging examples).

Yesterday, President Bush made clear who is calling the FCC shots. At a signing of the new Bush-Martin (and sadly, Michael Coops) indecency law, the President said, referring to Martin [according to Broadcasting & Cable] that: “He’s a part of the Executive branch. And since I’m the head of the executive branch, I take responsibility, as well, for putting people in place at the FCC who understand one of their jobs, and an important job, is to protect American families.” Of course, the FCC is supposed to be an independent agency. It’s not—as White House’s past and present frequently tell the Chair what to do via back channel. In the case of media ownership and network neutrality, you can be sure that WH has weighed in to help detail Kevin Martin’s pro-Big Media agenda.

Next week, Martin will approve a new huge give-away to the broadcasting industry, worth billions (it’s called multi-casting must carry). This will give every TV station, and powerful group owners, the leverage to extract programming and broadband distribution concessions from phone and cable companies (the TV lobby won’t need network neutrality, since Martin is giving them the ability to ensure their programming streams can run on the fast lane for free).

But Martin will find some rough seas ahead. His reputation as chair is likely to be one of a narrow-minded bureaucrat, rather than a real public servant.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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