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FCC's New Standards-Bearer

Bush Picks Vocal Indecency Opponent Kevin J. Martin to Head Commission

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 17, 2005; Page E01

President Bush has chosen Kevin J. Martin, one of the Federal Communication Commission's leaders in the crackdown on indecency, to succeed the agency's outgoing chairman, Michael K. Powell, the White House said yesterday.

Martin, 38, is one of the FCC's three Republican commissioners and has been considered the front-runner to head the agency, which is the government's chief regulator of the media and telecommunications industries. He does not require Senate confirmation because he already is a commission member.

Kevin J. Martin, left, was chosen by President Bush to replace Michael K. Powell, right, as FCC chairman. Some groups expressed concern about his anti-indecency stance. Cable and broadcast lobbies, in general, were warm to his selection. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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Powell, the son of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, leaves the FCC's top job this week after four years.

Martin and Powell sometimes clashed on issues of policy and style, with Martin most notably splitting with the agency's two other Republicans during a 2003 vote on local telephone competition because he wanted to preserve a strong role for state regulators.

"I look forward to working with the administration, Congress, my colleagues and the FCC's talented staff to ensure that American consumers continue to enjoy the benefits of the best communications system in the world," Martin said in a statement. He declined to comment further.

Martin's appointment and his generally deregulatory agenda were greeted positively by industry groups, including the cable and broadcast lobbies.

"We look forward to continuing to work closely with Chairman Martin to maintain a deregulatory environment for competitive telecommunications services," Kyle E. McSlarrow, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said in a statement.

However, some public-interest and artists groups, such as Massachusetts-based Free Press and the District's Center for Digital Democracy, expressed concern. The FCC under Martin is likely to be more active on indecency than under Powell, who proposed more than $4 million in fines over the past four years, more than all other former FCC chairmen combined. Martin often said that indecency fines proposed in the past year were too low, and he called for broadcasters to be fined for each utterance or depiction of indecent material within a program.

"Mr. Martin has consistently advocated expanded government regulation of broadcast program content," allowing the definition of what constitutes indecency to become "unacceptably" vague, said Jonathan Rintels, executive director of the Center for Creative Voices in Media.

Gene Kimmelman, senior director of public policy and advocacy for Consumers Union, the nonprofit group that publishes Consumer Reports magazine, said he is optimistic that Martin will keep an open mind.

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