Battle Now Moves to Capitol Hill

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The Federal Communications Commission today formally issued its rules governing media ownership, kicking off the race for media industry consolidation and a timetable for Congress to act to overturn the changes.

'Promote the public interest'
The FCC's chairman, Michael K. Powell, in a statement said the rules strike "a careful balance that does not unduly limit transactions that promote the public interest, while ensuring that no company can monopolize the medium."

The five-member FCC approved the rules along party lines last month, as Mr. Powell and the two other Republican commissioners voted in favor of the changes while the commission's two Democrats opposed.

Commissioner Michael J. Copps, who voted against the new rules, said the decision "empowers America's new media elite with unacceptable levels of influence over the media on which our society and our democracy so heavily depend."

Congressional resistance
The rules still have to be published in the Federal Register before they can take effect, but today's unveiling starts the clock for those on Capitol Hill who have made it clear they will try to reverse the FCC's decision. Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and John Kerry, D-Mass., have announced plans to proceed with a "resolution of disapproval."

Sen. Dorgan in a statement today called the rules "wrongheaded" and warned they would result "in more consolidation and less competition in broadcasting." He said he would quickly move to introduce a resolution to overturn the FCC action when Congress returns from vacation next week.

The news FCC rules make a number of sweeping changes in ownership rules. Among them:

  • Media companies can own three TV stations in the largest markets (up from two) and two in many other markets.

  • Newspaper publishers now can buy broadcast stations in most markets.

  • Media companies can now own TV stations reaching 45% of the nation's households, up from 35%. Because UHF stations count as half of VHF stations, broadcasters can actually buy stations reaching 90% of U.S. households.

  • Companies can own three TV stations, eight radio stations, the local newspaper and the local cable system in the largest markets and slightly less in medium-sized markets.
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