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Broadcasters, facing complaints that rampant consolidation is eliminating minority voices, last week unveiled an investment fund to increase minority ownership of broadcast outlets.

They also claimed that individual stations could compete against corporate market monoliths.

"We have an awful lot of competitors who have a single stand-alone station, and there are markets where we have a single stand-alone station and we compete against a large cluster," said Mel Karmazin, president-CEO of CBS Corp. "We have seen no examples where a small operator is unable to reap a lot of the benefits that go along with having ownership."

Dennis FitzSimons, president of Tribune Broadcasting, said his company's Los Angeles and Chicago stations compete successfully, although both CBS and Clear Channel Communications have major chunks of the radio market.

"There are always going to be opportunities for entrepreneurs," he said. "We haven't seen stand-alones in our markets or small markets that haven't been able to survive."


The announcement of the fund, called Prism Communications Partners, backed by an initial $175 million from various broadcasters, was made at the National Association of Broadcasters headquarters in Washington -- meant as an indication of how seriously the industry is taking the complaints about minority ownership in the wake of two recent major consolidation moves. In one of the deals, Viacom is buying CBS; in the other, Clear Channel is buying AMFM.

While the U.S. Justice Department examines possible antitrust implications of those deals for advertisers, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Bill Kennard has indicated a concern about minority-voice issues.

The FCC has to decide whether to approve the deals and has to make a decision on whether to raise the current limit on the national audience any one broadcast owner can reach. The current 35% reach would force Viacom/CBS to sell off some stations in order to merge.

The broadcasters contend the availability of an investment fund would assure continued minority voices. Mr. Kennard called the action "a first critical step."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson expressed concern about the acquisitions. And the Rev. Al Sharpton is opposing FCC approval of the Viacom/CBS combination because of concerns that minority stations would have trouble competing for advertising

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