07.07.2003 12:00 PM
FCC adopts order on media ownership rules

A divided FCC adopted by a partisan 3-2 vote last week, the final order loosening broadcast ownership rules. Whether Congress ever allows the rules to take effect is uncertain, but it was clear that within the FCC even adoption of the final order was a controversial act.

“Public outrage from all sides of the political spectrum continues to mount against the FCC’s decision to allow further media concentration. We’ve now heard from nearly two million people, almost all opposed to the decision, an unprecedented outpouring of public concern. Yet we march ahead with our new rules. I’m disappointed my colleagues have refused to suspend the effective date of the new rules, despite the overwhelming public reaction and ongoing Congressional deliberations to overturn the decision. Now is the time for the FCC to reconsider the rule changes on its own in recognition that it acted against the public interest,” said Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein in a statement that preceded a sweeping 39-page dissent.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell defended the ownership rules change, calling the review of the issues “an exhaustive one.” But the chairman also recognized the political firestorm that was unleashed. “I recognize...we have forced an important debate about media regulation and the role of media in our society, a debate I welcome and encourage. I note, however, that much of the discussion (and hyperbole) has focused almost exclusively on content, not the structural broadcast ownership rules that are the subject of this proceeding. Much has been made about violent television, sexually explicit content, and ‘bland’ or ‘coarse’ programming. All of this anxiety about TV fare has been rolled into this proceeding as an indictment against media companies. ”

“Apparently, the notion seems to be that if we don’t like the programming being aired, we can cure the problem by regulating the size and structure of broadcast television and radio. This, in my view, is not only a mistaken assumption, but is dangerously offensive to the principles of the First Amendment,” Powell wrote.

Michael Copps, a Democratic commissioner opposing the ownership changes, said he was “deeply saddened” buy the FCC’s issuance of the order. “Some have characterized the fight against this seemingly pre-ordained decision as quixotic and destined to defeat,” Copps said. “But I think, instead, that we’ll look back at this 3-2 vote as a pyrrhic victory.”

This FCC’s drive “to loosen the rules and its reluctance to share its proposals with the people before we voted awoke a sleeping giant,” Copps said. “American citizens are standing up in never-before-seen numbers to reclaim their airwaves and to call on those who are entrusted to use them to serve the public interest.

“In these times when many issues divide us, groups from right to left, Republicans and Democrats, concerned parents and creative artists, religious leaders, civil rights activists, and labor organizations have united to fight together on this issue. Senators and Congressmen from both parties and from all parts of the country have called on the Commission to reconsider,” Copps continued. “The media concentration debate will never be the same. This Commission faces a far more informed and involved citizenry. The obscurity of this issue that many have relied upon in the past, where only a few dozen inside-the-Beltway lobbyists understood this issue, is gone forever.”

Copps noted the public outcry over the FCC vote has “made a difference” and—with an eye toward eventual reversal of the rules by Congress—urged opponents to continue to resist the rules. “If you stay the course now, we have a chance to settle this issue of who will control our media and for what purposes, and to resolve it in favor of public airwaves,” Copps said.

For a complete text of the FCC’s order and statements by FCC members, visit www.fcc.gov.

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