Deeply split FCC members stake their ground

The displeasure etched in FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s face last week in a New York Times photo demonstrated that victory is not always such an easy thing. Though Powell may have pushed through his ownership rule changes by a single vote, his success did not buy him much political goodwill.

Criticized by members of his own party in Congress, Powell argued that he had done the right thing. The new rules, he contended, will improve competition and diversity in the media industry. And, besides, he claimed, the FCC was required by Congress to update the rules.

The commission does not have the luxury of always doing what is popular,” Powell said. “We did our job and I believe we did it well.”

The controversial 1996 telecom law requires the FCC to study ownership rules every two years and repeal or modify regulations determined to be no longer in the public's interest. The Republicans used this provision to push through an agenda that would allow more concentrated ownership of media properties.

FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy, one of three Republicans who backed the rule changes, argued that consolidation of media is less problematic now that the public has more sources of information from which to choose.

While Powell, Abernathy and commissioner Kevin Martin believed loosening ownership caps would help media businesses, the FCC's two Democratic members took an aggressive opposing view.

“Those who believe the Internet alone will save us from this fate should realize that the dominating Internet news sources are controlled by the same media giants who control radio, TV, newspapers and cable,” said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat.

Fellow Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein in opposing the rules change joined Copps. Adelstein said the reduction in ownership caps would leave the FCC a “toothless tiger” in safeguarding the public’s interest in regulating over-the-air broadcasting.

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