FCC Publishes Full Media Ownership Regulations

07 July 2003

One month after it decided on sweeping changes to US media ownership law, the Federal Communications Commission has published its recommendations in full.

On June 2, the three Republican commissioners outgunned their two Democrat colleagues to pass the big-media-friendly rules [WAMN: 03-Jun-03]. Some details emerged at the time, not least the raising of the ownership bar on television companies whereby a group's combined stations can reach up to 45% of US viewers instead of the previous 35%.

Other alterations have now emerged, such as major changes to the rules governing ownership of media in local areas. Here, the FCC has identified three types of market: small (up to three TV stations); medium (four to eight TV stations); and large (upwards of nine TV stations.

Media companies will be able to own up to three television broadcasters in large markets, two in medium-sized and one in small. However, no company can hold more than one of the four highest-rated stations in any market.

As regards cross-ownership of TV, newspaper and radio assets, all restrictions have been lifted in large markets, some curbs remain for medium-sized regions, while no multimedia holdings will be allowed in small areas. Previously there was a blanket ban on TV/newspaper and TV/radio combinations.

Those wishing to download all 255 pages of the Commission’s report can do so at the FCC website.

The FCC’s rules will come into force thirty days after they are published in the Federal Register, which itself could take a further three weeks. However, they face ongoing opposition from lawmakers – with several senators pursuing bills to reverse the raising of the TV ownership bar [WAMN: 20-Jun-03] – and a diverse range of lobby groups.

Such attacks were criticised by FCC chairman Michael Powell in his statement to accompany the report’s publication. He dismissed opponents’ complaints as being directed at the content big media firms produce rather than the structural restrictions reviewed by the Commission.

Launching into egalitarian mode, Powell pointed out that hordes of Americans freely choose to watch what critics might deride as “the drivel dished out by corporate titans.” He added that the FCC had no business intervening in such matters, concluding with a rhetorical flourish: “To urge the Commission to do so, as many at bottom have, would reawaken King George. This would surely disturb the slumber of our forefathers.”

Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff