Martin Sets High Bar for Media Rules


Federal Communications Commission member Kevin Martin is indicating that
broadcast-ownership rules must be held as "indispensable" to the public interest
in order to remain on the books.

Under federal law, the FCC is to review broadcast-ownership rules biennially
and determine whether the rules remain "necessary" to protect the public being
served by competitive markets.

In an eight-page dissent, Martin said he believed the federal courts wanted
the FCC to define "necessary" as meaning "indispensable" or "essential."

Martin's dissent -- which came Friday in the context of a similar
telecommunications biennial review -- clashed with a more liberal definition of
"necessary" propounded in a joint statement by his GOP colleagues, FCC chairman
Michael Powell and commissioner Kathleen Abernathy.

Powell and Abernathy said the word "necessary" had different meanings in
telecommunications law, with various court decisions interpreting necessary to
mean "convenient" or "useful," not indispensable.

FCC sources and others said Martin's interpretation means that unless the
agency finds that a broadcast-ownership rule is "indispensable," the rule has to
modified or repealed.

"It's a very high burden, absolutely," said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president
of the Media Access Project, a public-interest law firm opposed to broad
relaxation of media-ownership rules.

Within a few months, the commission is expected to decide whether to modify
or repeal the ban on the common ownership of a newspaper and TV station in the
same market, the cap limiting a TV-station group to reaching no more 35 percent
of TV households nationally and a few local TV-station and
radio-station-ownership rules.

An FCC source cautioned that Martin's understanding of "necessary" in the
context of the broadcast-ownership proceeding did not mean the hurdle was so
high that every rule was doomed.

The source noted that last year, Martin voted to extend cable program-access
rules an additional five years after finding that the extension met the legal
burden that the rules continued "to be necessary to preserve and protect
competition and diversity in the distribution of video