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Media Regulation Timeline

NOW's latest coverage of the Federal Communications Commission examines the relationship between Congress and the FCC, and the battles that continue between the two. Although FCC issues have been showing up frequently in recent news stories — the pulling of an issue ad from the Superbowl and FCC Chairman Powell's calls for increased obscenity fines among them — the story of the struggle within Congress to maintain media diversity has been a relatively quiet one. NOW has compiled a variety of sites for further research on the FCC.

Read below about the history of media regulation, including the latest FCC rulings and the upcoming hearing that may decide whether the FCC decision to relax market ownership restrictions will be upheld.

1941Local Radio Ownership Rule, National TV Ownership Rule enacted. A broadcaster cannot own television stations that reach more than 35% of the nation's homes.
1946Dual Television Network Rule enacted, prohibiting a major network from buying another major network.
1964Local TV Multiple Ownership Rule enacted, prohibiting a broadcaster from owning more than one television station in the same market, unless there are at least eight stations in the market.
1970Radio/TV Cross-Ownership Restriction enacted, prohibiting a broadcaster from owning a radio station and a television station in the same market.
1975Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership Prohibition enacted. Bans ownership of both a newspaper and a television station in the same market.
1981Reagan Administration deregulation under the leadership of FCC Chairman Mark Fowler. Deregulatory moves, some made by Congress, others by the FCC included extending television licenses to five years from three in 1981. The number of television stations any single entity could own grew from seven in 1981 to 12 in 1985. (Museum of Television and Radio)
1985Guidelines for minimal amounts of non-entertainment programming are abolished. FCC guidelines on how much advertising can be carried per hour are eliminated.
1987"Fairness Doctrine" eliminated. At its founding the FCC viewed the stations to which it granted licenses as "public trustee" — and required that they made every reasonable attempt to cover contrasting points of views. The Commission also required that stations perform public service in reporting on crucial issues in their communities. Soon after he became FCC Chairman under President Reagan, Michael Fowler stated his desire to do away with the Fairness Doctrine. His position was backed by a 1987 D.C. Circuit Court decision, Meredith Corp. v. FCC, which ruled that the doctrine was not mandated by Congress and the FCC no longer had to enforce it. (Full history of the Fairness Doctrine)
February 8, 1996President Clinton signs the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It is generally regarded as the most important legislation regulating media ownership in over a decade. The radio industry experiences unprecedented consolidation after the 40-station ownership cap is lifted. Clear Channel Communications owns 1200 stations, in all 50 states, reaching, according to their Web site, more than 110 million listeners every week. Viacom's Infinity radio network holds more than 180 radio stations in 41 markets. Its holdings are concentrated in the 50 largest radio markets in the United States. In 1999 Infinity owned and operated six of the nationís Top 10 radio stations.
July 17, 2001Senate Commerce Committee hears panelists speak about media ownership. Senator Fritz Hollings (D-SC) expresses concerns about media consolidation. Mel Karmazin (President and COO, Viacom), Alan Frank (CEO, Post-Newsweek Stations, Inc.), Jack Fuller (President, Tribune Publishing Company), William Baker (President, WNET, New York City), Gene Kimmelman (Co-Director, Consumer's Union), and Professor Eli M. Noam (Columbia Business School) in attendance.
October 29, 2001FCC conducts a roundtable on media ownership policies. Government officials, business analysts, academics, and media advocates in attendance.
January 18, 2002A train carrying hazardous materials derails at 1:30 a.m. in Minot, North Dakota, spilling 210,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia in an incident federal regulators call "catastrophic". Clear Channel Communications owns six out the seven commercial stations in Minot. Minot authorities say when they called with the warning about the toxic cloud, there was no one on the air who could've made the announcement. Clear Channel says someone was there who could have activated an emergency broadcast. But Minot police say nobody answered the phones. (The Associated Press, January 14, 2003 - "A year after derailment, the land has healed, mostly, but what of the people who live in Minot?" by Blake Nicholson). (At the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on January 14, 2003, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) cites Minot as an example of how consolidated media can negatively affect a local community. THE NEW YORK TIMES reported on the Minot radio station market again on March 29, 2003 in "On Minot, N.D., Radio, a Single Corporate Voice")
September 7, 2002THE NEW YORK TIMES reports that the FCC will conduct a review of media ownership rules, as mandated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The FCC commissions several studies of the media marketplace to review the rules on an empirical basis. They start the review in September, 2002.
September 9, 2002According to our survey, ABC's WORLD NEWS THIS MORNING is the only network show to acknowledge the FCC's announcement - at 4:40 in the morning. The report, in its entirety: Liz Cho, ABC News: "Government regulators reportedly are likely to allow the country's media giants to get even bigger. THE NEW YORK TIMES says the Federal Communications Commission is reviewing media ownership rules this week. Among other things, current rules prevent a newspaper from owning a TV station in the same city or a network from owning stations that serve more than 35 percent of the national market."
October 1, 2002FCC releases 12 studies on the media marketplace. The studies comment on how Americans get their news, the state of television, newspaper, and radio industries, and a variety of other media issues.
January 2, 2003Comments on media ownership due to the FCC. Viacom (owner of CBS and UPN), General Electric (owner of NBC), and News Corporation's Fox Entertainment Group, among others, file a request with the FCC that all media ownership rules be eliminated. They argue that the rules are outdated in the internet age, when average Americans have access to media through countless forms and outlets. (WALL STREET JOURNAL, January 3, 2003 - "Media Companies Seek End to All Ownership Rules," by Yochi J. Dreazen) (Read the comments filed.)
January 14, 2003Senate Commerce Committee hearing - Chairman Powell and Commissioners Abernathy, Adelstein, Copps, and Martin in attendance. Senators Ernest Hollings (D-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) are among the participants. Powell declares there won't be radical changes to the current media ownership rules in response to Senators' concerns. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) cites Minot as an example of how consolidated media can negatively affect a local community.
January 16, 2003Columbia Law School holds forum on media ownership. Chairman Powell and the four other FCC Commissioners attend. Discussions on news and civic discourse, entertainment, localism, and the business of media. Panelists include television executives (including Martin Franks from CBS Television), journalists, academics, union representatives, advertisers, media advocacy groups, and business analysts. Listen to the forum.
January 21, 2003Chairman Powell writes an op-ed in USA TODAY "The time has come to honestly and fairly examine the facts of the modern marketplace and build rules that reflect the digital world we live in today, not the bygone era of black-and-white television."

"Joe Friday knew that only the facts would help him unravel a case. It is the same with this critically important FCC policy review. Only the facts will enable us to craft broadcast-ownership restrictions that ensure a diverse and vibrant media marketplace for the 21st century."

January 30, 2003Senate Commerce Committee hearing on media ownership - L. Lowry Mays (Clear Channel), Edward Fritts (National Association of Broadcasters), Don Henley (Recording Artists Coalition), Robert Short (Short Broadcasting), and Jenny Toomey (Future of Music Coalition) testify.
February 3, 2003Thirty Congressmen sign a letter to Chairman Powell criticizing the FCC for not adequately publicizing the media ownership debate and rushing the rules-changing process to favor major media outlets.
February 17, 2003The Project for Excellence in Journalism releases a five-year study of local television news, "Does Ownership Matter in Local Television News?" They found that TV stations owned by smaller media firms generally produce better newscasts; are better at local reporting; produce longer stories ; and do fewer softball celebrity features. The study concludes that ... "Changes that encourage heavy concentration of ownership ... In local television ... By a few large corporations ... Will erode the quality of news Americans receive."LA Times, February 17, 2003 - "Smaller Stations Fare Better in Local TV News," by Edmund Sanders, )
February 27, 2003FCC holds its only official public hearing on media ownership rules in Richmond, VA. Chairman Powell and the other four commissioners make statements, panels discuss diversity, competition, and localism. Panelists include television and radio executives, journalists, academics, union representatives, media advocacy groups, and economists. (Press release, program, and presentations)
March 19, 2003Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO), Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) write a letter to Chairman Powell calling for a broader public debate in the FCC's media ownership review. ("Senators Want Input on Media Rules,"
April 1, 2003A group of lawmakers write to FCC Chairman Powell urging him to keep to his proposed schedule to present the ownership rules decision by June 2, 2003. (Read the full letter, signed by Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., Sen. John Breaux, Reps. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., John Shimkus, R-Ill., Vito Fossella, R-N.Y., Mary Bono, R-Calif., George Radanovich, D-Calif., and Pete Sessions, R-Texas, and Sens. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., John Ensign, R-Nev., and George Allen, R-Va.)
June 2, 2003The FCC revised its limits for broadcast ownership (read Media Ownership Rule Changes) but multiple parties appealed this decision. The cases were consolidated and assigned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which stayed the effective date of the new rules.
July 23, 2003The House voted 400-21 to approve a spending bill that included a provision to block the FCC decision to allow major television networks to own up to 45% of the country's viewers. The Bush administration has voiced opposition to the attempt to rescind the FCC ruling.
September 3, 2003A federal appeals court in Philadelphia issued an order blocking the rule changes from taking effect. (Read the ruling.)
September 4, 2003The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a spending bill that contained a provision that would effectively block the ownership rule changes.
September 16, 2003Congress introduced a "resolution of disapproval" to nullify the new FCC rules which passed in the Senate 55-40 (with overwhelming bipartisan support); however, Republicans in the House have vowed not to pass the legislation. Read the resolution.
October 8, 2003NBC said it would purchase the entertainment arm of Vivendi Universal for $3.8 billion. See what the "Big Six" own now.
November 5, 2003A letter signed by 208 members of Congress is sent to House Speaker Dennis Hastert requesting the full House be allowed to consider the resolution of disapproval passed in the Senate on September 16, 2003. Read the letter.
November 24, 2003In a last minute deal Senate Republican leaders and the White House compromised on the TV station ownership cap. It was increased just enough to allow Viacom and News Corporation to keep all their stations (39% limit).
December 8, 2003 - January 22, 2004Omnibus spending bill incorporating the ownership cap adjustment passed first by the House on December 8, 2003, and by the Senate on January 22, 2004.
January 6, 2004At the Smith Barney Citigroup Global Entertainment, Media and Telecommunications Conference, Sumner Redstone, Chairman and CEO of Viacom remarks that "2004 will be a breakout year for Viacom." Media reporters speculate that 2004 will be a year of mergers.
January 28, 2004The Federal Communications Commission ("FCC") released its tenth annual report on competition in the market for the delivery of video programming. The report examines the status of competition, discusses changes that have occurred in the competitive environment over the last year, and describes barriers to competition that continue to exist. The FCC released the report at an open meeting in San Antonio, Texas.
January 29, 2004The Consumer's Union released its new national survey of where people turn for local news. The survey found "newspapers are more than twice as important a source than the Federal Communications Commission determined when it relaxed its media ownership rules."
February 11, 2004The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled a hearing for this date to decide if and when the FCC's decision will take effect. (Read the brief.)

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