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Rewriting the FCC Rules: New Media Ownership Rules

June 4, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I thank the commissioners for coming before the committee today.

TERENCE SMITH: Two days after the FCC cast its controversial 3-2 vote along partisan lines to rewrite media ownership regulations, the full commission appeared today before the Senate Commerce Committee to answer questions about the ruling.

Among other things the FCC ruled that in the largest cities, one company may own up to three television stations. Nationally, a company and can own stations that reach 45 percent of U.S. households, up from 35 percent.

One company can own both a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in the same city, ending the rule against cross-ownership in all but the smallest markets.

TERENCE SMITH: Since the vote, several lawmakers have proposed legislation to roll back the FCC decision.

Today Committee Chairman John McCain said that while he is opposed to legislation that would negate the ruling, he will let the committee consider it nevertheless.

McCain also said he would add language to a bill that would permit the commission to reimpose ownership limits, if needed, in the public interest.

A bipartisan array of senators criticized the commission’s ruling.

South Carolina Democrat Ernest Hollings accused Michael Powell, the chairman of the bitterly divided commission, of what he called “spin and fraud” in pursuit of deregulation.

SEN. ERNEST HOLLINGS: The commission with this order has turned the people’s public interests commission into an instrument of corporate greed.

TERENCE SMITH: Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine:

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: I, too, share the profound disappointment and disagreement with the way in which the FCC has ultimately reached a decision that paves the way for further consolidation and concentration of power further in the hands of a few.

TERENCE SMITH: Chairman Powell said the senators’ fears are unwarranted.

MICHAEL POWELL: I must reject the sensationalists’ claims that our effort is nothing more than gratuitous deregulation. I believe we did our job, and I believe we did it well.

TERENCE SMITH: Commissioner Michael Copps, Powell’s chief rival on the commission, took an opposite tack.

MICHAEL COPPS: Because I believe the commission’s actions empower too few media giants with unacceptable levels of influence over the ideas and information upon which our society and our democracy depend.

TERENCE SMITH: Republican Commission member Kathleen Abernathy dismissed such concerns.

KATHLEEN ABERNATHY: At the end of the day, we had to decide whether to be guided by facts or by fears.

Despite all of the alarmist cries, it is instructive to look at what we actually did. I believe the net result of our order is balanced. We preserved core values by maintaining safeguards to protect against undue concentration.

TERENCE SMITH: California Democrat Barbara Boxer blasted Abernathy’s contentions.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I, however, am very frosted by something that Commissioner Abernathy has sort of hung her hat on in making this decision. And that’s the fact versus fear theory which I have now read.

Today you used the word alarmist cries. Just because you sit behind the microphone does not make you smarter than other people, and to dismiss their points of view by saying they’re fearful, is an insult to them.

KATHLEEN ABERNATHY: It was based on fear, it was based on what if the FCC gets rid of all its rules, what if the FCC allows the top four stations in all the markets to merge, what if the FCC doesn’t maintain a cap on affiliate ownership: What if we are willing to sanction two or three media moguls providing all the information to consumers. I would never do that. I would hope that none of my colleagues would ever do that.

TERENCE SMITH: Some senators did voice support for the commission’s decision. Republican John Ensign of Nevada:

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN: The rules, looking back, compared to technology, it doesn’t seem that those same rules could possibly apply today because the landscape has changed so completely.

TERENCE SMITH: In addition to possible congressional action, a coalition of consumer and interest groups is expected to challenge the FCC decision in court.