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Powell attempts to minimize media rule changes

To hear FCC Chairman Michael Powell tell it, the bevy of new media ownership rules now under consideration by the FCC are no big deal. Just some policy tweaks here and there “guided exclusively by the public interest.”

At least that’s what Powell told members of Congress, who are beginning to hear the growing grass roots rumblings that the commission is about to make radical media ownership changes that will favor large corporations and do significant damage to consumers.

Powell called the controversy over the proposed rule changes “melodramatic” at a hearing last week before the Senate Commerce Committee. The FCC is not, as many critics charge, “awarding benefits” to corporate interests, he said.

However, from their responses, it appeared that neither Republicans nor Democrats on the committee believed that Powell’s intentions are at all minor. The FCC will make “monumental decisions” this year that “will shape the future of communications forever,” said Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who is about to take over as committee chairman.

Chairman, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina, said the FCC is “considering radically revising the rules of the game.”

One hot button issue is the FCC’s plan to remove ownership prohibitions between newspapers and television stations within the same city. “If you get it wrong, we will have much less competition and much more (media) concentration. And the American consumer will suffer grievous injury,” North Dakota Sen. Byron L. Dorgan told Powell.

The chairman and other FCC commissioners, all of whom attended the hearing, said they were committed to media diversity, but Dorgan and other senators warned against concentration of media outlets. “When you talk about more voices, are you talking about more voices by one ventriloquist?” Sen. Dorgan asked the FCC members.

Powell testified that the FCC was not planning to eliminate all media ownership rules, but noted that the courts have already struck down some of the rules. The FCC must now justify those rules, he added, or they will be set aside.

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