FCC Set to Slacken US TV Ownership Rules

12 May 2003

Responding to the relentless lobbying of media giants such as Viacom and News Corporation, Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell is ready to ease the present ownership limit within local TV markets.

This is presently set at 35%, a cap vociferously opposed by Big Media as it blocks them from upping their portfolio of stations within a given market. If unchanged, it will also force Viacom-owned CBS and NewsCorp’s Fox – both currently in breach of the cap – to divest themselves of stations.

Chairman Powell, a Republican, will today (Monday) present a draft set of new ownership rules to his four fellow commissioners (two Republican appointees, two Democrat). But despite the Republican majority, it is unlikely that the commissioners will toe the administration’s line that the cap should be abolished entirely.

Powell, acting as counsel for the administration, argues that the burgeoning of cable and satellite television along with the internet, has made the present rules redundant and that all ownership limits should be abolished. But one Republican member, Kevin Martin, disagrees – as do the two Democrats – and word from within the bunker is that Powell has agreed with Martin a compromise of 45%.

With a presidential election looming next year and eager to be seen as Mr Helpful in the eyes of the media titans, President Bush has been heaping pressure on the FCC to reach a swift [and sympathetic] decision. The commissioners will vote on the issue on June 2.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff