FCC’s Powell Signals Media Deregulation Free-for-All

29 April 2003

Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell on Monday gave the strongest possible indication that the FCC will opt in favor of deregulation on the issue of US media ownership. The body is set to rule on the matter June 2 [WAMN: 31-Mar-03].

Addressing the annual convention of the Newspaper Association of America in Seattle, Powell told the assembly what it [mostly] wanted to hear – the likely burial of the FCC rules that currently restrict national and local ownership of TV and radio stations, as well as same-market multimedia combinations such as broadcast stations and newspapers.

Chairman Powell socked it to ‘em in rambunctious style, condemning the [Democrat-controlled] FCC of the past as media “zookeepers,” deciding how [its]charges were fed, whether the portions were fair, how much freedom they warranted and when they were “allowed to mate and have babies”.

Clearly convinced of the power of repetition – to say nothing of techno-symbolism – Powell repeatedly contrasted a “narrowband monopoly-regulated” media gulag with a “broadband” Eden radiating a “broader view of regulation”.

His proselytising was seen by anxious consumer groups – and not a few advertisers and agencies – as evidence that the die is cast even before the FCC’s upcoming vote. Few expect the FCC to retain the rule that restricts newspapers from owning radio and TV properties in their same market.

On this point, Powell said simply that “it is difficult to maintain the rule in its current form,” although it is not reported that he explained why. Then another sweeping assertion: the assumption that the public interest was served by regulating against concentrated media ownership was “simply false,” Powell stated, reportedly without quoting any explanatory chapter and verse.

One delegate, Gannett Corporation chairman/ceo Douglas McCorkindale, who helms the USA’s largest newspaper publishing empire [and the second largest in the UK] commented after Powell’s address that it seemed “a rather positive assessment”. Then, perhaps conscious of the ungentlemanly implication of ringing cash registers, he sounded a note of caution: “I’ll wait and see what happens. I’ve been around [the FCC] for twenty-eight years.”

Data sourced from: AdAge.com; additional content by WARC staff