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The Arguments

Jun 9, 2003  •  Post A Comment

In a statement, GOP Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell said the new media ownership regulations struck a “careful balance that does not unduly limit transactions that promote the public interest while ensuring that no company can monopolize the medium.”
But the agency’s two Democrats dissented vociferously and voluminously. “This is the most sweeping and destructive rollback of consumer protection rules in the history of American broadcasting,” said Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.
Added Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps, “It is wrong for the media industry, wrong for the public interest and wrong for America.”
In testimony before the committee, the FCC’s Mr. Powell said he believed the rule changes were “modest.”
“We did our job and we did it well-with professionalism, rigor and with the public interest at the forefront of our minds,” Mr. Powell said.
But Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., accused Mr. Powell of “spin and fraud.”
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said the decision was “wrong-headed and destructive” and would lead to “an orgy of mergers and acquisitions.”
Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a Republican, said she believed there was already an “alarming amount of concentration” in key media markets. “I don’t want to see other cities get into that kind of concentration,” she said.
Added Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, “It [the FCC’s new rules] most assuredly is a victory for free enterprise but it is not a victory for free speech.”
Sounding a discordant note, Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., came to Mr. Powell’s defense. “On balance, I think you’ve done a pretty good job,” Sen. Fitzgerald said.
The FCC’s vote also was panned last week by Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. “This decision was a case of democratic malpractice,” he said.
In the immediate wake of the FCC’s vote, agency critics, including Rev. Jesse Jackson-who participated in a prevote protest in front of the FCC headquarters building in Washington-vowed to challenge the ruling in the courts and on Capitol Hill.
“This ruling simply allows fewer to own more, and it does violence to us culturally, politically and ethnically,” Mr. Jackson told reporters.
The FCC’s Republican commissioners said dramatic changes were warranted because consumers have a multiplicity of new channels for information, including thousands of Web sites on the Internet.
But lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle said the deregulation would give media companies a dangerous chokehold over the news.
“The [FCC] with this order has turned the people’s public interest commission into an instrument of corporate greed,” said Sen. Hollings at Senate hearings last week.
“This is not a partisan issue,” added Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., at a press conference to announce he would help lead the charge against the FCC.