Media ownership showdown set for May

FCC Chairman Michael Powell expects the FCC's review of media ownership issues to be completed in May. Then comes a vote whose outcome is far from certain.

The FCC held a public hearing on the issue last week in Richmond, Va. Michael Copps, an FCC member expected to oppose Powell’s vision of far looser media ownership rules, is planning additional public hearings next month in Seattle, Wash., and Durham, N.C.

Powell opposes additional hearings, contending the Richmond event was enough because the FCC has already received thousands of public comments, most of them sent via e-mail.

The ownership rules under review focus on:

  • The number of television and radio stations a single corporation may own in one market
  • Whether a ban should remain on mergers between the major TV networks
  • Limits on radio station ownership
  • Whether there should continue to be a ban on a single company owning a broadcast station and a newspaper in the same market

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires the ownership rules review. It had long been believed that Powell and the two other Republican FCC members would vote in favor of the corporate interests that want the rules loosened. However, after Republican member Kevin Martin broke with Powell on a major telecom issue two weeks ago, the outcome of the ownership vote appears less certain.

Large media companies, including the owners of the four major broadcast TV networks, want the FCC to abolish the ownership rules completely. They contend that the rules against consolidation hinder their growth and make it harder to stay competitive.

Opponents of the rule changes, which include consumer groups, individual broadcast stations, television performers and creative workers want more diverse, less concentrated media ownership. Media consolidation means less creative programming, less diversity and fewer media jobs.

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