FCC votes to change media ownership rules

The FCC voted June 2 to allow broadcasters in the largest TV markets to own as many as three television stations, to remove other cross-ownership restrictions previously barring media conglomerates from owning a newspaper and radio and TV stations in the same market and to allow a single company to own stations that reach up to 45 percent of all U.S. TV households, up from the previous limit of 35 percent.

As expected, the FCC voted to relax media ownership regulations, changing the number of stations a single company can own.

Commission Chairman Michael Powell said the rule changes reflected the commission’s efforts to collect a thorough record, empirically analyze the ownership landscape and solicit public comment. Keeping existing rules in place, he said, “is not a viable option” and would assure “a swift death” to ownership limitations at the hands of the court.

Among the ownership changes is a provision allowing a single company to own two TV stations in a single market as long as there are 17 or fewer full power stations. In markets with 18 or more TV stations, one company may own three TV stations. In markets with only three broadcast television stations, no duopoly will be allowed.

During her presentation prior to the commission vote, FCC Media Bureau attorney Erin Dozier said the report and order found that it was “not necessarily in the public interest” to prevent cross-ownership of media outlets, i.e. newspapers, TV stations and radio stations. Common ownership of outlets can “create certain efficiencies,” such as consolidation of news reporting resources, that benefit the public. Thus, the report and order eliminated existing newspaper and broadcast and radio and TV cross-ownership restrictions. In changing cross-ownership restrictions, Ms. Dozier said, a “consumer-centric” diversity index was created to determine how consumers use different media outlets.

The vote to adopt the rule and order was 3-2, with chairman Powell, commissioners Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin in favor and commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein opposed.

Commissioners Copps and Adelstein raised several objections to the rule and order. Copps pointed to the continuation of the “strange UHF discount,” which cuts UHF audience size in half for the sake of calculating the percentage of national audience coverage. When taken in concert with the new rule that lets a single company reach 45 percent of all TV households, he said, a sole company would actually be allowed to reach up to 90 percent of all U.S. viewers. Adelstein pointed out that an unprecedented 750,000 comments to commission from citizens, municipalities, organizations and individual congressmen objected to the changes prior to the vote.

After the vote affirming the rule and order was passed, a handful of protesters in the audience began singing: ”Mass deregulation of the mass communication is the end of democracy.” Security personnel escorted them from the meeting.

For more information visit www.fcc.gov.

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