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Chairman Powell speaks at the Media Institute

Ownership restraints serve as a useful, though not precise, proxy for promoting diverse viewpoints among the electronic media, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said during a speech at the Media Institute, March 27, in Washington D.C.

Preserving an adequate number of independent owners and editors increases the probability of a wider range of viewpoints in the coverage and treatment of issues of significant public importance, he said. Powell claimed that the current ownership approach, which is comprised of rules in effect, which where promulgated between 1940 and 1975 to promote diverse viewpoints is at serious risk. Powell said that the FCC has repeatedly failed to adapt its approaches to market reality, technological change, consumer preferences or the law.

According to the FCC the last 40 years has seen the number of media outlets increase nearly 195 percent. The number of media outlet owners has increased by 139 percent. Powell said that despite these massive changes, the FCC has continued to hue close to its original line in justifying the continuation of its rules. It failed to recognize (as did many advocates of strong media regulation) that these changes would require more compelling explanations than the standard off-the-shelf ones and would demand more rigorous proof of its assertions in the face of so varied a media landscape. He went on to say that the 1996 Telecom Act was a sea of change and the Congress shifted the burden to the FCC, rather than the industry, to demonstrate the need for ownership rules. If the FCC cannot conclude a rule is necessary, they are commanded to modify or eliminate it. The FCC has to do this exercise every two years.

FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps held a public hearing on media March 31 in Durham, N.C. at the Duke Law School. U.S. Congressmen Richard Burr (R-NC) and David Price (D-NC) and FCC Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein also participated. The hearing was organized into three panels – “Localism and Community Standards,” “News,” and “Diversity.” After the panels, there was an opportunity for the general public to make comments. The purpose of the hearing was to give citizens outside of Washington, D.C., an opportunity to voice their opinions about media concentration.

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