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Big Media: Overview
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NOW has addressed the issue of media consolidation several times in the past year — in "Virtual Radio," and Bill Moyers Journal on FCC Deregulation we presented information about how consolidation in the media industry may change what you hear and see. With "Big Media" NOW updates the story of the proposed relaxation of media ownership rules as the time for a final decision comes closer. According to Senator John McCain, the changes being contemplated by the FCC right now are monumental and "will shape the future of communications forever."

Yet a recent study by The Project for Excellence in Journalism showed that a large majority of the American public aren't aware of the media ownership changes being suggested by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Seventy-two percent of the respondents reported that they had "heard nothing at all" about the new ownership proposals. When asked if relaxed media ownership rules would have a negative or positive effect on the country, 11 percent thought relaxed rules would be positive; 46 percent thought it would make no difference, and 34 percent thought the result would be negative. You can tell the FCC what you think, and visit other sites to read a wide range of perspectives on the issue. Below are some facts and links that will help you learn more about what's at stake.


Altering the rules of media ownership is currently part of the Federal Communications Commission's Strategic Goals program. Review of the rules was prompted in part by a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. Circuit which stated, in part, that the FCC must show "empirical evidence" that the rules are necessary, or they must be revoked. Additionally a lawsuit by several major networks has brought the rules into legal question again and Congress itself has mandated that the rules be reviewed every two years.

The FCC had begun review of two ownership rules in 2001, the Broadcast-Newspaper Cross-Ownership Rule and the Local Radio Ownership Rule. Now six rules are being reevaluated.

  • Broadcast-Newspaper Cross-Ownership Prohibition (1975) Bans ownership of both a newspaper and a television station in the same market.

  • National Television Ownership Rule (1941) A broadcaster cannot own television stations that reach more than 35% of the nation's homes.

  • Dual Network Rule (1946) - No entity can own more than one major television network.

  • Local Television Ownership Rule (1964) - A broadcaster can't own more than one of the top four stations in a single market.

  • Local Radio Ownership Rule (1941) - Limits the number of radio stations any one entity can own in a single market.

  • Television-Radio Cross-Ownership Rule (1970) - Limits the number of TV and radio stations a single entity can own in any given market.
**There are currently exceptions to these rules, decisions made on a case-by-case basis.


The FCC will decide whether the rules are to be eliminated or modified by late June, according to FCC Chairman Michael Powell. The media ownership plan must be approved by a majority vote among the five commissioners, three of whom are Republicans (Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy, Commissioner Kevin Martin, and Chairman Michael Powell) and two of whom are Democrats (Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein and Commissioner Michael Copps).

To inform their decision, the FCC commissioned empirical studies of the current media marketplace. Other organizations, like the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) have done studies on the issue as well. On February 17, 2003 the PEJ released a five-year study on consolidation and quality called "Does Ownership Matter in Local Television News?"

As the deadline nears, the pressure mounts on the commissioners. On March 19, 2003 Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO), Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) wrote a letter to Chairman Powell calling for a broader public debate in the FCC's media ownership review. (Read the full letter.) On April 1, 2003 six lawmakers wrote to FCC Chairman Michael Powell to urge him to adhere to his time schedule, which promises a final decision on the ownership rules by June 2, 2003. (Read the full letter.) Also, questions about the quality of war coverage have led the additional discussions in the press about the pros and cons of further consolidation. See the NEW YORK TIMES, ""War Puts Radio Giant on the Defensive" and THE BALTIMORE SUN, "War coverage could alter U.S. media policy."


Each year THE NATION magazine makes a graphic representation of the holding of the largest media companies. The COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW also tracks a more extensive list.


Did you know that some of the same people responsible for your favorite (and least favorite) TV shows make your movies, CDs, books and might own your baseball team? Click here for just a partial listing of assets.

You can also find out about today's climate in media ownership by visiting the Web sites of the six largest players.


There are many groups weighing in on all sides of the media ownership issue. You can find out more about their arguments by visiting our Resources and Reading section. Although a decision has now been rendered by the FCC the Senate has decided to hold hearing on the changes and the discussion may not yet be over.

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