FCC Does the Dirty Deed
Well, the dirty deed was done this morning at the FCC. Michael Powell got a 3-2 vote to approve rule changes that relax media ownership requirements.
The Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 -- along party lines -- to adopt a series of changes favored by media companies. These companies argued that existing ownership rules were outmoded on a media landscape that has been substantially altered by cable TV, satellite broadcasts and the Internet.
Critics say the eased restrictions would likely lead to a wave of mergers landing a few giant media companies in control of even more of what the public sees, hears and reads. "The more you dig into this order the worse things get," said Michael Copps, one of the commission's Democrats. He said the changes empowers "a new media elite" to control news and entertainment. Fellow Democrat Jonathan Adelstein said the changes are "likely to damage the media landscape for decades to come."
The decision was a victory for FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who has faced growing criticism from diverse interests opposed to his move toward deregulation. "Our actions will advance our goals of diversity and localism," Powell said. He said the old restrictions were too outdated to survive legal challenges and the FCC "wrote rules to match the times."
The FCC said a single company can now own TV stations that reach 45 percent of U.S. households instead of 35 percent. The major networks wanted the cap eliminated, while smaller broadcasters said a higher cap would allow the networks to gobble up stations and take away local control of programming. The FCC largely ended a ban on joint ownership of a newspaper and a broadcast station in the same city. The provision lifts all "cross-ownership" restrictions in markets with nine or more TV stations. Smaller markets would face some limits and cross-ownership would be banned in markets with three or fewer TV stations.
The agency also eased rules governing local TV ownership so one company can own two television stations in more markets and three stations in the largest cities such as New York and Los Angeles.
Powell claimed this morning that the relaxation of the rule would not lead to a wave of mergers, but we will see.