FCC Boss Rebuffs Quit Talk After Media Law Row

06 August 2003

Michael Powell is rejecting speculation he will quit as chairman of America’s Federal Communications Commission over the long-running media ownership controversy.

Powell’s future has been in doubt since the House of Representatives last month approved a bill preventing the federal agency from relaxing media ownership law [WAMN: 24-Jul-03].

However, returning from holiday earlier this week, the FCC head told top aides he had no plans to stand down. “The chairman is aware of the speculation in the press and industry about his future,” declared Jonathan Cody, Powell's special policy adviser. “[He] assured senior staff that it is his firm intention to continue to lead the commission and implement our agenda.”

Cody insists the chairman – whose term runs until 2007 – is keen to focus on subjects such as the roll-out of digital and wireless technology, leaving the thorny media deregulation debate behind.

Powell sparked controversy in June after the watchdog’s three-strong Republican majority pushed through sweeping changes to media ownership law [WAMN: 03-Jun-03].

The reforms – considered by some to unduly favor Big Media – ran into opposition from a broad coalition of lobby groups as well as congressmen of both parties. This culminated in the House vote to block raising the TV ownership cap from 35% of national reach to 45%. The White House, which favours deregulation, remains hopeful it can overturn the vote by threatening to use its veto.

Last month’s setback left Powell’s opponents scenting blood. “He's in trouble,” jeered Gene Kimmelman, public policy director for the Consumers Union, which opposes the FCC plans.

“He's demonstrated he doesn't have a clear sense of the politics on Capitol Hill. He’s out of touch with what Congress was trying to do in establishing media ownership limits and out of touch with what the American people expect them to deliver.”

According to former FCC official Blair Levin, however, what matters most is his relationship with the White House. “If they lose confidence in him, then he has to go. But I certainly see no signs that that's the case.”

Data sourced from: MediaWeek (US); additional content by WARC staff