FCC APPROVES NEW MEDIA OWNERSHIP RULES

Vote Splits 3-2 Along Party Lines

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- After months of wrangling and manuevering by lobbyists on all sides of the contentious issue, the Federal Communications Commission
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this morning voted to pass new media ownership rules.

The 3-2 party line vote approved changes that are expected to dramatically alter the media landscape. Republicans said the changes were needed to bring rules up to date; Democrats warned the changes would significantly impact democratic dialogue.

Rare procedure
Immediately after the vote several senators said they would try to block the rules from taking effect. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., joining U.S. Sens. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., said he might try a rarely used procedure of a "legislative veto" to void the rule.

Under the new rules in the nation's six largest markets, a single company could for the first time own three TV stations, eight radio stations and a newspaper, and in medium-sized markets companies could own a newspaper, up to two TV stations and as many as six to eight radio stations. They could also own the local cable system.

FCC chairman
FCC Chairman Michael Powell, a Republican, called the changes "modest albeit very significant changes."

Commissioner Michael J. Copps, a Democrat, said the change "empowers America's new media elite with unacceptable levels of influence over the media on which our society and our democracy so heavily depend."

Mr. Copps called the vote "radical deregulation" and said it "surrenders to a handful of corporations awesome powers over our news, information and entertainment."

Degrade civil discourse
Jonathan Adelman, a second Democratic commissioner, said the decision would "damage the media landscape for generations. It threatens to degrade civil discourse and the quality of our society's cultural and political life."

Republican commissioners, however, accused the Democrats of overplaying the changes. Mr. Powell said changes were needed to comply with court rulings and the FCC has promulgated rules that "match the times."

'Vulcan mind meld'
Commissioner Kathleen Q. Abernathy said federal courts had told the commission to base its rules on facts, "not on fear and speculation about hypothetical monopolies intent on exercising some type of Vulcan mind meld over the American people" or a fear of "a mythical media monopoly that will descend upon our media landscape."

She said the decision preserves balance while reflecting the changes in the media marketplace.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Dorgan said the decision "stands logic on its head" and he called it "dumb and dangerous." It's a decision that says "We favor concentration over competition. ... We don't care anything about diversity or localism. It's a decision that ignores the fact the American public owns the airwaves, not broadcasting companies."

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