FCC to Review US Media Ownership Regulations En Bloc

19 June 2002

America’s Federal Communications Commission has announced it is to conduct a concurrent reassessment of almost all its media ownership regulations.

Since the Bush administration took office over a year ago, many of the FCC’s rules have come under fire from the courts. Earlier this year, a US Court of Appeals ordered the agency to review its ban on owning TV stations reaching over 35% of viewers and struck down a limit on cable ownership.

Many observers expected the FCC to review the rules one by one. Instead, it has decided to appraise the lot in one fell swoop, a decision Kenneth Ferree, head of the FCC’s media bureau, attributes to the interconnected nature of the regulations.

“All of these rules are really distant cousins in some sense, and you can’t think about one of them without also at least contemplating what is happening in another,” he said. “It just makes sense to do them all at once.”

However, the news met a chilly reception at some media companies, which fear they will have to wait longer under a combined review process for the most contentious rules to be relaxed. One such firm is Tribune, which has been urging the FCC to drop its restrictions on ownership of TV stations and newspapers in the same market.

“This should have been repealed years ago, and it’s just grossly unfair to mire us with all of the other ownership pieces they’re looking at,” complained Shaun Sheehan, Tribune’s vp for Washington. “The market continues to move forward and we have our hands tied behind our backs anytime we look to buy a TV station.”

The FCC’s review is expected to last until the middle of next year, by which time, said Ferree, it hopes to have made the regulations “judicially sustainable”.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff