OPPONENTS READY MEDIA CONSOLIDATION ARGUMENTS

FCC Formal Hearings to Open in Richmond

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Consumer groups are girding for a major fight today as the Federal Communications Commission holds its first and only formal hearing before drafting new rules that could have a far-reaching effect on media consolidation and ownership.

With the FCC considering issues such as whether newspapers can own TV stations within the same market or how many TV stations any one company can own in a market, among other rules, consumer groups say the hearing, to be held in Richmond, Va., is their best chance to make their case for a go-slow approach.

Checks and balances
The Center for Digital Democracy yesterday accused the FCC and the largest media conglomerates of trying to overturn the "checks and balances" that have long governed American media.

"There will be fewer owners of media

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outlets in a community, and meaningful 'freedom of speech' will rest in the hands of a few -- with tremendous political and commercial power," the center's executive director, Jeff Chester, said in a statement. "Since these same companies provide the public with news and information, they will be largely unaccountable, failing to cover their own political activities."

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president-CEO of the Media Access Project, a public interest law firm, said he will tell the FCC it needs to look at the worst broadcasters, not the best, when crafting rules.

He said he will testify that "[r]elaxation of national ownership caps and creation of larger local ownership blocks has permitted some broadcasters to ignore newspaper programming and abandon their communities in favor of voice track and central casting."

Antiquated rules
Executives of media companies and media associations, meanwhile, said the current FCC ownership limits, many designed long before the Internet and cable TV offered consumers myriad new choices for information, make little sense.

The Newspaper Association of America said its president-CEO, John F. Sturm, will suggest that allowing newspaper owners to buy broadcast TV stations would improve news and informational programming because daily newspapers are more involved with their home communities.

"It makes perfect sense that newspaper-owned broadcast stations would excel in news coverage and informational programming," the group said Mr. Sturm will testify.

No ad groups at hearing
Advertising groups are not testifying and have not commented, although Grey Global Group's MediaCom is part of a coalition of groups expressing concern about the effect of rules changes on programming.

The FCC will offer a live telecast of the hearings on its Web site, at www.fcc.gov.

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