January 8, 2008 / 9:13 PM / 11 years ago

House panel launches probe of FCC practices

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Bipartisan leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee launched an investigation of the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday, three weeks after the agency’s controversial vote to ease media ownership restrictions.

In a letter sent to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, the committee asked that all electronic records and personal e-mails related to FCC work be saved.

The committee has “initiated a formal investigation into FCC regulatory procedures to determine if they are being conducted in a fair, open, efficient, and transparent manner,” said the letter written by Chairman John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, and ranking Republican Joe Barton of Texas.

“This investigation will also address a growing number of allegations received by the committee relating to management practices that may adversely affect the agency’s operation,” the letter said.

Martin, a Republican, was sharply criticized by lawmakers from both political parties for insisting that the agency hold a vote to change media ownership restrictions, particularly heading into the final full year of the Bush administration.

The December 18 vote by FCC commissioners, which was 3-2 along party lines, eased a 32-year-old ban on the ownership of a newspaper and broadcast outlet in a single market.

The FCC had no immediate comment on the letter.

Consumer groups opposed the FCC’s change in media ownership regulations. So did a number of lawmakers, who said the FCC had not spent enough time studying the issue and seeking public input.

On December 3, Dingell signaled his concerns with how Martin was running the agency by announcing a committee inquiry into the FCC’s regulatory process. Later that week, Martin testified before a House subcommittee and rejected calls for the FCC to delay a vote on media ownership regulations.

Martin’s defiance at that hearing “definitely factored in” to the committee’s decision to escalate its inquiry into a formal investigation, a House aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Reporting by Julie Vorman; Editing by Gary Hill

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