Powell Fights Back

FCC Chairman Michael Powell planted his biggest punch yet in support of the commission's much-debated orders on media ownership, charging his critics with deliberate distortions of fact to create "hysteria" and a desire to censor the most popular TV programming. Critics of the June 2 decision, which the FCC finalized
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FCC Chairman Michael Powell planted his biggest punch yet in support of the commission's much-debated orders on media ownership, charging his critics with deliberate distortions of fact to create "hysteria" and a desire to censor the most popular TV programming.

Critics of the June 2 decision, which the FCC finalized in a 257-page order July 2, are dwelling on TV content and mistakenly thinking they can solve their concerns with changes in ownership structure, Powell said in a 12-page statement accompanying the order.

"All of this anxiety about TV fare has been rolled into this proceeding as an indictment against media companies. Apparently, the notion seems to be that if we don't like the programming being aired, we can cure the problem by regulating the size and structure of broadcast television and radio. This, in my view, is not only a mistaken assumption, but is dangerously offensive to the principles of the First Amendment.

To do what many critics have demanded "would re-awaken King George" and "disturb the slumber of our forefathers," he said.

"These companies' alleged assault against the public interest is that they happen to produce the majority of programming that people like to watch," he wrote. "Apparently, though, this is the same programming that some find objectionable and prefer we not see."

The massive order includes some lessons in media history and arguments to counter the waves of criticism the commission received for its preliminary order June 2. It makes television duopolies and newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership legal in more markets and would raise the limit on a single owner's audience reach from 35 percent to 45 percent of the nation.

In his statement, Powell also repeated many of the themes he has explained throughout the debate: that the media marketplace has created a vast number of voices, that Congress and the courts prohibited the FCC from keeping the rules as they were and that the new ownership limits themselves protect the localism and diversity his critics accuse him of abandoning.

He also said the role of the five most powerful media companies "has been purposely misstated to create hysteria around this proceeding."

Critics of the FCC's move were not mollified.

"The Commission has twisted itself into a pretzel to ensure that the media giants can own more local broadcast stations and newspapers using a logic that is not supported by the facts," wrote Consumers Union, which promised to sue. "This decision will likely result in the expansion of the biggest media corporations into local communities through the purchase of the most popular local broadcast stations and dominant local newspapers across the country."

Many lawmakers make also questioned the FCC action, with the Senate Commerce Committee leading the attack on issue of the nationwide cap.

The entire order and all the commissioner's statements are available on the FCC's Web site.