Michael Powell, FCC Chairman

This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, August 26, 2003, that was edited for clarity. Click here for complete access to all of Neil Cavuto's CEO interviews.

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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Now to the pressure that’s been going back and forth in Washington from the president that’s under pressure to an FCC chief under the gun. The president’s feeling the heat in Iraq, and I guess Michael Powell is feeling the heat on almost everything else.

From wanting to unshackle decades-old media ownership rules to encountering a firestorm over whether he’s lost his effectiveness, a lot of people have taken their potshots at Mr. Powell. It’s time for Mr. Powell to respond.

With us now, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Michael Powell.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for coming.

MICHAEL POWELL, FCC CHAIRMAN: Good to see you, Neil. How are you?

CAVUTO: Thank you for being here, sir. Maybe you can update me, sir, on where this push stands. Just as you had led this effort to sort of allow media companies to essentially buy more media properties, there was both a left- and right-led push in Congress to reverse what you did, that it was a mistake. Where do you stand on this now?

POWELL: Well, first of all, I don’t think it was a mistake. You know, we are an expert independent agency, and concentration rules can be relatively technical, and I think we struck the right balance for the rules that Congress put in place in 1996.

If they’ve had a change of heart, that’s certainly their prerogative, but I think what we should demand as policymakers and the public is to really evaluate critically the proposals that are being considered. We’ll see when Congress comes back from August recess some of the proposals that they are considering.

Some of them concern me, though, because, while they represent understandable anger at big media, I don’t know that they’re focusing us in a much more constructive media regulatory environment. So we’ll need to look at that carefully.

CAVUTO: If, indeed, so many Republicans and so many Democrats -- indeed better than 400 in the House of Representatives -- feel that if they should overturn what you did, that the president of the United States wouldn’t dare veto legislation like that. Are you in a box, Mr. Chairman?

POWELL: No, I don’t think so. Look, I’ve been around a long time. I don’t personalize policy. The only thing that should matter is what the right policies for the American people are, not what the political gamesmanship is.

There’s a lot of mischaracterization of fact around here. For example, you mentioned 400 members of the House of Representatives. Well, that’s not really accurate.

What’s happened is the politicians, some of them, have placed riders on a funding bill that funds the State Department, the Justice Department. Four hundred members voted for an appropriations bill that had this stuck on it.

So I don’t know that that represents where Congress…

CAVUTO: I’m sorry, sir. But could you see the president, regardless of the numbers involved here, since so many Republicans are on board this now, would he be afraid and unlikely to veto this?

POWELL: I don’t think the president’s afraid of anything. I think it’s quite telling that the president has been sparing in his use of the veto and sparing in his use of even the possible threat of a veto. I don’t think that he does that lightly.

And I think that he understands what we’re trying to convey, which is, as an expert independent agency, we struggled with the balance set up by the rules of Congress in 1996, and I think he’s expressed some concern with the political interference of that balance and making sure that we are not leading the media environment into a much more chaotic one than would exist under the existing rules.

So I think he is serious in considering his options, and I think that he’s not afraid of making a courageous decision, if that’s in the interest of the public.

CAVUTO: So you don’t predict one way or the other whether he’ll veto it or not, right?

POWELL: Oh, no, I wouldn’t possibly predict that.

CAVUTO: Let me ask you, sir. You had said not too long ago, "I heard the voice of the public loud and clear," more to the point, I guess, on local interests in merged broadcasts, be they radio- or TV-type properties, that your critics are contending this has all of a sudden a concern of yours. What do you say?

POWELL: Oh, I think that’s people who don’t pay attention to my six years of record. I’ve been at the FCC longer than any commissioner there. I have regularly fought for and supported many public-interest-minded policies, including EEO rules and a number of other important public- interest rules.

It is a legitimate concern, but I think one of the things that we’re obligated to do as public policy officials is to take concern of the public and try to channel it in the most constructive direction.

One of the things I’ve heard expressed in this debate really gets down to localism because we have a lot of big media in the United States, but by no measure do we have a concentrated television market. We have the largest, most diverse market in the world, and it’s not concentrated as a technical matter.

But the public still has concerns, and I don’t think we do things for our critics, we do things for the public, and I think that this is our effort as the expert agency to channel that concern in a constructive direction.

I’ve been consistent in criticizing that ownership rules, which are about limiting concentration and the specifics of that, are very clumsy two-cushion pool shots at things like localism. If we really are concerned about those things we should regulate them or consider regulating them much more directly and much more transparently so that sort of all the motives that might underlie letting a company get bigger.

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