The Federal Communications Commission was forced to postpone its vote July 14 to begin crafting new regulations governing who can own which media properties and where they can own them after the commi


WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Hollywood Reporter) -- The Federal Communications Commission was forced to postpone its vote July 14 to begin crafting new regulations governing who can own which media properties and where they can own them after the commissioners failed to agree on the basic questions it needs to ask in its review of the nation's media-ownership rules.

Although the commission had planned to issue its "notice of proposed rule-making" July 14, the commissioners couldn't agree on the number of public hearings and ownership studies the panel should conduct or the time period when the public could register comments on the issue.

The resignation of chairman Michael Powell has left the five-member commission split between two Democrats and two Republicans, making it even more difficult than usual to get things done.

Commission chairman Kevin Martin had hoped to get the media-ownership provision moving, but the split stymied him.

On June 2, 2003, the FCC relaxed decades-old rules restricting media ownership, permitting companies to buy more television stations and own a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in the same city.

Media companies argued that existing ownership rules were outmoded in a media landscape that has been altered substantially by cable TV, satellite broadcasts and the Internet. Critics say the eased restrictions likely would have led to a wave of mergers, landing a few giant media companies in control of even more of what the public sees, hears and reads.

The federal appeals court in Philadelphia threw out the new regulations, saying the FCC hadn't done enough to prove that the changes were needed. One regulation that raised a single company's audience-reach ceiling to 45% of U.S. households, instead of 35%, was taken off the table when Congress last year set the audience-reach ceiling at 39% by statute.

This summer, the Supreme Court refused to hear media companies' appeal of the Philadelphia court's decision. The July 14 vote would have begun the process again. Under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the FCC is required to review its media-ownership rules periodically.

After the commission's meeting, Martin told reporters he thought things could be worked out.

"I think the media-ownership issues have always been extremely complicated and difficult to work on. I don't think that is changing, but the commissioners have demonstrated their willingness to compromise," he said. "I think it's pretty close. We'll continue to work together, and I'm confident we'll find a consensus."

Democratic commissioner Michael Copps agreed. Democrats on the commission want to ensure that there are enough public hearings and a long enough comment period to thoroughly ventilate the issues. They also want to ensure that there is enough funding for studies on the issues to be complete, and they want the issues handled in one rule-making and not done piecemeal.

Commission aides said Martin had offered to have four FCC-sponsored public hearings and spend $400,000 on the studies. Powell had one official hearing on the rule changes and spent $200,000 on his version of the studies, which were roundly criticized as inadequate.

Martin has said he wanted to break up the proceeding into individual rule-making. In particular, he has wanted to move the regulation barring companies from owning a newspaper and a broadcast station in the same market on its own. On July 14, he appeared to back away from that position.

"I was concerned we would make more progress if we took things in smaller bites, but I know it was important to some of the other commissioners that we try to look at this as a whole issue together," Martin said. "That wasn't an issue, at this stage we're trying to look at them all together. The notice we were talking about today would have been starting the process for all the rules, not an individual piece."