FCC Relaxes Rules for Media Ownership; Critics Worry about Results of Changes
Byline: Chris Baker, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Federal regulators voted yesterday to relax some of the restrictions that have kept the nation's largest media companies from growing larger, a decision that may put a few giant companies in control of what most people see, read and hear.
The 3-2 vote along party lines by the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission will permit one company to own newspapers and television stations in the same city, and allow a single broadcaster to own as many as three TV stations in one market.
In the largest cities, for example, one company will be able to own as many as three TV stations, eight radio stations, the cable TV system, cable TV networks and a daily newspaper.
Critics say relaxing the restrictions will reduce local news and a diversity of viewpoints, and have vowed to fight the FCC's actions in court and Congress. Proponents say the changes are needed because the existing rules are outdated in the era of the Internet and cable and satellite television.
"Keeping the rules exactly as they are, as some stridently suggest, was not a viable option. Without today's surgery, the rules would assuredly meet a swift death," said FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, who joined the other Republicans on the panel, Kathleen Q. Abernathy and Kevin J. Martin, in voting to revise the rules.
Without changes, the rules created between 1941 and 1975 would have been thrown out by the courts, Mr. Powell said.
The FCC's other two members, Democrats Jonathan S. Adelstein and Michael J. Copps, voted against loosening the restrictions.
Mr. Copps called the FCC's overhaul its most sweeping since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, when it approved changes that paved the way for the creation of conglomerates such as Clear Channel Communications, the nation's largest owner of radio stations, with more than 1,200 outlets.
"This exercise ought to terrify us as we consider visiting upon television and newspapers what we have inflicted upon radio. The 'Clear Channelization' of the rest of American media will harm our country," Mr. Copps said.
Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, called the FCC's decision "dumb and dangerous" in a speech on the Senate floor. He said it will create a system with many television stations but just "one ventriloquist" controlling them.
Mr. Dorgan is part of a bipartisan group of senators who vowed to try to overturn the relaxed regulations through a "resolution of disapproval," which is essentially a way for Congress to veto executive agency regulations through new legislation; or by attaching an amendment to a spending bill.
But key House Republicans said such measures are unlikely to pass in the House, and they defended the FCC's action as simply carrying out what Congress and the courts have asked the FCC to do.
The rules will take effect when they are published in the Federal Register.
Media companies that say the agency did not go far enough in relaxing the rules could seek legal action in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, although that is considered unlikely, industry observers say.
More likely are lawsuits from the consumer groups who opposed the FCC's actions. Representatives from those organizations said yesterday they want to study the agency's decision further.
"On the surface, there are some glaring inconsistencies that would seem ripe for correction in the courts," said Chris Murray, legislative counsel for Consumers Union, the nonprofit group that publishes Consumer Reports magazine. …