Senators prod FCC on ownership issue

Feb 3, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Senate antitrust subcommittee leaders last week urged the Federal Communications Commission to halt plans to ax or relax agency rules that limit how many media properties a company can own.
“We urge you to support the public interest in diverse media ownership,” said Senators Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and Herb Kohl, D-Wis., in a letter to the FCC. Major media corporations are urging the agency to scrap the limits, based in part on the argument that they need the room to grow.
In their Jan. 28 letter to the FCC, Senators DeWine and Kohl, the chairman and ranking minority members, respectively, of the Senate antitrust subcommittee, said additional industry consolidation might benefit the cause of economic efficiency for major industry players.
But the lawmakers said the FCC must “carefully weigh any potential efficiencies against the fundamental and real need to protect the ability of citizens to access differing views on news and public affairs.”
“We are concerned about any significant relaxation to the current media ownership rules that the commission might be considering,” the lawmakers said.
Deregulatory foes said the letter underscored that the agency’s proposals are a nonpartisan issue.
“Republicans and Democrats alike are extremely concerned about media concentration,” said Jonathan Rintels, executive director of the Center for the Creative Community.
“This is the strongest expression so far that there is real concern that [FCC Chairman] Michael Powell is going too far,” added Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy.
But a CBS spokesman said, “The hearing demonstrated bipartisan support for deregulation.”
NBC issued a statement saying, “We are hopeful that the FCC will recognize the explosion of media choices since the old days of the three networks, and level the playing field so that broadcasters can be competitive.
The letter was sent on the eve of Senate hearings last week at which some lawmakers expressed concern about how radio deregulation had paved the way for Clear Channel Communications to acquire more than 1,200 radio stations.
Of special concern were allegations that the company has used its consequent clout to determine what records are aired to its massive radio audience. L. Lowry Mays, Clear Channel chairman and CEO, was on hand to deny any wrongdoing.
Also on the subject, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., last week announced that the Senate Commerce Committee will hold additional hearings on media consolidation and deregulation, with a new round likely to focus on the television and newspaper industries.