The Senate Commerce Committee spent a good portion of today quizzing FCC chief Kevin Martin about proposed changes to media ownership rules.

The FCC board will vote Dec. 18 on whether to allow a newspaper in any of 20 of the largest Nielsen DMAs in the country to own a broadcast outlet (either radio or TV) in the same market.

On the face of it, Martin’s proposal looks very reasonable. It looks like the FCC chair is concerned about ensuring there’ll be lots of local news. It looks like he’s concerned that there’ll be outlets owned by women and minorities, who, it’s assumed, would make it a priority to cover news relevant and interesting to those populations.

But two FCC commissioners, Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein came out against Martin’s proposal in a brief joint statement. (Note Copps and Adelstein are Democrats, while Martin and the other two commissioners are Republicans.)

The non-profit organization Free Press took a closer look at the possible implications of the rule change, and they’re worrisome. If you think Free Press is making wild, alarmist interpretations, remember: Media companies who want to buy up outlets retain smart, creative lawyers whose job is to find the means to their clients’ ends. (Check out Allan Sloan’s breakdown of Sam Zell’s complicated Tribune Co. purchase, for example.)

Perhaps there isn’t anything we the public can do at this point. And perhaps consolidation is a necessary reality of the business. But not everyone is ready to roll over. Influential senators concerned about what’s happening recently passed the “Media Ownership Act of 2007.”

Unfortunately, the Act looks mostly like another layer of bureaucracy, but perhaps that’s all we have for now. Free Press has been building up a campaign to urge the full Senate to pass the legislation. They’ve got a petition going and they’ve posted a YouTube video that has highlights from some of the most popular — yet meaningless — broadcast clips out there to point out how Big Media isn’t necessarily interested in quality content.