Questioning Tough for FCC Nominees
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Three nominees to the Federal Communications Commission faced tough questioning at a Senate confirmation hearing Monday on what they proposed to do about sex and violence on radio and television.
Members of the Commerce Committee’s subcommitee on commerce, science and transportation, who tangled repeatedly with two FCC chairmen during the Reagan years, wanted assurances from the proposed new chairman and two other Republican commissioners that they would bend to the congressional will on what kids should be able to see or hear on the airwaves.
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., who as chairman of the full Commerce Committee refused for more than a year to hold hearings to fill two vacancies at the five-member FCC, led the charge in Monday’s hearings.
He told nominees Alfred C. Sikes, Andrew C. Barrett and Sherrie Marshall that he expected the full Senate to vote on their nominations this week and that he expects relations with Congress to improve with the new commission in comparison to ″that ragamuffin commission that preceded you″ under outgoing FCC Chairman Dennis R. Patrick.
The full committee is expected to vote on the nominations Tuesday.
Hollings said Patrick consistently ignored the will of Congress with his deregulatory policies and that the regulation of broadcasting was more essential now than ever.
″You folks are going to take an oath to regulate, not de-regulate,″ Hollings told the nominees, reflecting the widely held view they will be confirmed easily.
The only opposition to the nominees has been from anti-indecency groups, some of whom testified Monday. These groups think the FCC has not been tough enough on broadcast smut and that President Bush did not seek out nominees who were more likely to take a hard line against indecency.
Sikes, a self-described moderate, is the assistant secretary of Commerce for communications and information and longtime political of Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., a member of the committee; Barrett is a member of the Illinois Commerce Commission and Marshall is an attorney and former legislative aide to Patrick.
They will replace Patrick, who is resigning, and fill two other Republican vacancies.
They face a host of important issues, such as the government role in fostering international competitiveness in areas such as high-definition television; further deregulation of the telephone industry; re-regulating cable television; and assignment of the airwaves to competing businesses such as cellular telephones and direct broadcast satellites.
Hollings reserved his most intense criticism for the issue of indecency on television, noting that until Congress stepped in to ban all indecent TV programs in 1988, the FCC had established a ″safe harbor″ for such shows from midnight to 6 a.m. when children were presumed not to be watching.
″Garbage is garbage regardless of the time of day,″ Hollings said.
Barrett at one point raised the hearing’s temperature when he said that while he abhored indecent programming, the FCC must recognize ″there is a market for indecency.″
That brought a strong challenge from Sen. Albert Gore, D-Tenn., who said Americans are ″sicked and tired of what’s going on.″
Barrett said he wasn’t sure about the safe harbor concept and said the FCC’s role was to decide ″what the law will allow us to tolerate.″
The FCC last year tried to implement the 24-hour ban on indecent programming, but broadcasters and civil rights groups challenged it in court on constitutional grounds and a federal appeals court in January stayed imposition of the law. A Supreme Court test is expected.