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FCC Eases Media Ownership Rules, Courts Controversy

The Federal Communications Commission recently loosened restrictions on broadcast media ownership in what continues to be a hotly debated move.

The FCC’s five commissioners voted 3-2 to lift bans restricting ownership of media outlets across and within markets. The decision was “the most comprehensive review of media ownership regulation” in FCC history, according to an FCC press release.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />

Highlights of the new regulations include: 
–Companies can now own TV stations reaching 45 percent—instead of 35 percent—of the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />U.S. population.

–Companies can now own more TV stations in a single market (the number determined by amount of stations in a market and the ratings those stations command). 
–In the larger media markets, a single company can now own TV stations and newspapers, or TV stations and radio stations.

–Companies are now limited in the number of radio stations they can own in single markets. 
“It will permit a company to own up to three television stations, eight radio stations, a daily newspaper and a cable operator in the largest cities,” according to calculations by the New York Times’ Stephen Labaton.

Therein lies the problem, critics have been saying: The biggest media conglomerates will get even bigger, squeezing out smaller—and sometimes more local—voices. What makes good business sense for corporations makes no sense for the general public. 
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 mandated that the FCC review its regulations every two years. FCC Chairman Michael Powell had been arguing that some of the regulations were no longer serving the “public interest.” Others disagreed.

In fact, the FCC’s decision was especially interesting in light of the political bedfellows it created. For example, various news agencies have reported that the following organizations all opposed the decision: the National Rifle Association, the National Organization for Women, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Parents Television Council. 
At issue is more than big corporations getting bigger. Dissenters have argued, for example, that local TV programming decisions will be removed from local hands and put in the hands of conglomerates on the coast. “Homogenized” programming will result, they say.

The FCC has countered with several arguments, including a “diversity index” it says will help the commission keep diverse media voices within markets.  
Much has been, is being and will be made of the FCC’s decision Monday. Some members of Congress are even gearing up to block the changes, at least some of them.

If the changes do occur, it’s quite likely that the general public won’t notice much of a difference anyway. But that’s actually a cause for concern, not comfort. 
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

To learn more about the FCC’s decision, visit http://www.fcc.gov