FCC to Study Repeal of Mass-Media-Ownership Rules


Washington -- The Federal Communications Commission lastweek approved a plan that could result in the repeal or modification of keymass-media-ownership rules later this year.

Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC isobligated to review biennially all of its ownership rules to determine whether the rulescontinue to serve the public interest.

Among other things, the FCC said it would review the ban onthe common ownership of a TV station and a cable system in the same market and the ban onthe common ownership of a daily newspaper and a TV station in the same market.

The FCC will take the next few months to study the rulesbefore deciding whether it will actually go forward with any changes, said Mass MediaBureau chief Roy Stewart.

The debate will likely be an intense struggle between thosewho view ownership restrictions as outdated in an era of explosive bandwidth and those whoview relaxation as an invitation to media barons to expand their empires at the expense ofwomen, small businesses and minorities.

FCC chairman William Kennard said the review is one of themost important issues that the agency will tackle this year -- particularly the rules onbroadcasting.

The FCC is also considering whether to allow ownership oftwo TV stations in the same market and to allow ownership of a TV station and radiostation in the same market.

Kennard said he will be guided depending on whether currentbroadcast-ownership rules are working to promote competition and ownership diversity.

In a prepared statement, Kennard said, "Retainingdiversity of ownership of broadcast outlets is, in my view, vital to the democraticprocess."

FCC commissioner Susan Ness indicated that she would becautious about relaxing the rules in the wake of what she called "dramaticconsolidation" in radio and TV over the last two years.

"Some argue that media consolidation does not have anadverse effect on diversity. That is not so," Ness said. "What's needed areindependently owned outlets, not a variety of content controlled by one owner."

Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth said many of the rulesunder review are justified based on "spectrum scarcity" -- a rationale thataffords an expansive role for government in regulating ownership of the airwaves.

"I believe that the commission is obliged to reviewthe factual underpinnings of this 55-year-old rationale to see whether they continue tohold true in today's age," Furchtgott-Roth said.

FCC commissioner Michael Powell said many of the rulesexist to promote diversity, which, he said, is a subjective term, "debated often inamorphous terms."

Retaining the rules based on diversity of ownership, hesaid, had to be done with "adequate rigor and clarity," or the courts will voidthem.