Editorial: Media changes deserve scrutiny

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Advertisers and media buyers are about to witness the remaking of the U.S. media landscape-again. Past media industry megadeals generated more curiosity than concern in the ad business. Preoccupied with getting bigger themselves, advertisers and agencies seldom spent much effort to make their views known to government policymakers on how the new media giants might eventually affect the competitive health of ad markets. This time around, more attention seems in order.

While there are court battles still to be fought, last week's ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia continued the process of tearing down existing Federal Communications Commission media ownership limits.

The court struck down the rule that bars common ownership of cable TV systems and local TV stations in the same local market. (It's now possible for a cable company to acquire a broadcast network and its owned TV stations.) The court also ordered the FCC to justify its rule barring one company from owning TV stations that cumulatively reach more than 35% of U.S. TV homes. Also under attack, in separate proceedings, are FCC rules that bar common ownership of TV stations and newspapers in the same market, and that bar common ownership of radio stations and newspapers in the same market. Both seem destined to fall.

It's second nature for business executives to welcome "deregulation," and the rigidity of the FCC rules seems out of place and arbitrary today. Once the "rules" are gone, the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission will ultimately weigh the competitive impact of tomorrow's big media deals.

Advertisers and media buyers now will have one last chance to speak for their interests. They need to do their homework and find a voice when the time comes to speak.

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