Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) has written an open letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, responding to yesterday's news that the commission is considering a proposal to resolve the ongoing payola investigation. In the letter, Feingold urges the FCC to not entrust an industry that "former Attorney General [Eliot] Spitzer has already shown to have violated payola rules" to police itself. Feingold urges Martin to "instead seek strong binding settlements that ensure future compliance with the law and reassure consumers they will have access to small, independent and local labels and artists via the public airwaves."
Feingold notes that the rumored proposal would "not even admit any wrongdoing on the part of the companies - something that is typical for such an agreement," especially when "there was significant wrongdoing, both through traditional payola's direct bribes and new forms that sought to use middlemen to conceal the violations." Feingold contends that without "an admission that both traditional and new forms of payola are covered by the FCC jurisdiction, some in the industry may continue to contend that new forms of payola are legal."
The Senator also asks that any consent decree from the FCC should require radio stations to allow "meaningful access to the airwaves for independent labels and local artists." Feingold goes as far to suggest a "weekly airtime commitment" for such labels and artists that spans "all regions, formats and time-slots" and also contain rules to prevent radio companies from meeting "their obligation only in certain cites, formats or during low-listener time-slots."
He also encourages the Commission to require full disclosure of any and all payola-related reports and documents, possibly as part of a company's quarterly or annual fiscal reports.