Senators Rush Bill to Oppose US Media Law Reform

15 May 2003

The Federal Communications Commission faces opposition from the Senate over its proposals to relax US media ownership laws.

Unveiled earlier this week [WAMN: 13-May-03], the FCC plans include raising the maximum percentage of viewers a single firm can reach from the current bar of 35% to 45%, plus the removal in most areas of the ban on owning newspapers and TV stations in the same market.

Despite their predictable warm welcome from big media firms, the proposals have caused consternation in some parts of Congress. Two senators, Ernest Hollings (Democrat, South Carolina) and Ted Stevens (Republican, Alaska), have introduced a bill to retain current restrictions on ownership. The measure mimics a bill introduced in the House of Representatives on Friday.

“Unless we reverse course,” fears Hollings, “radical rule changes in the existing national and local ownership limits could seriously, and perhaps irreparably, alter the fabric of American culture and civic discourse.”

However, Congress is unlikely to be able to act before the five FCC commissioners vote on the proposals on June 2, though that date may yet be put back a month after the two Democrat commissioners asked for more time to study the scheme. FCC chairman Michael Powell – one of three Republican commissioners who support the plans – is considering their request, but has hitherto maintained that the process should not extend beyond the scheduled date.

Meanwhile, big media firms repeated their desire for deregulation to the Senate Commerce Committee.

Combative Mel Karmazin, president and chief operating officer of Viacom, claims TV networks need to own more of their local affiliates to combat falling ratings and climbing costs. Viacom owns CBS, which has already amassed stations reaching nearly 40% of viewers, above the current threshold.

“It is utterly unsupportable and unrealistic,” said Karmazin, “that broadcasters should be handcuffed in their attempts to compete for consumers at a time when Americans are bombarded with media choices via technologies never dreamed of a decade ago.”

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