WASHINGTON, DC: The White House-appointed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin J Martin (pictured), on Tuesday dutifully used his casting vote to water down the rules barring media owners from controlling both a TV channel and a newspaper in the largest US cities.

Exhibiting the frantic haste of an airline passenger late for his final call, Martin marshalled his four fellow-commissioners to a vote, despite a bipartisan call by a US Senate committee not to bulldoze the issue ahead of wider Congressional discussion.

The bulldozing was not unexpected, having attracted much coverage in recent weeks amid opposition across the party divide. Nor was there any surprise at the outcome given the commission's 3-2 Republican majority

In the vote's wake, Martin dismissed the issue as a "relatively minimal loosening of the ban [that] may help to forestall the erosion in local news coverage".

Jonathan Adelstein, one of the FCC's two Democrat commissioners, is not impressed by the politically pressured vote, which applies to the twenty largest local media markets across the nation.

"The law says we are to serve the public interest," he said. "And the public has repeatedly told us they are not interested in further media consolidation."

Big Media, however, is delighted. Especially as President George W Bush has made it clear he will veto any bill coming out of Congress that reverses or dilutes the proposed changes.

These will permit dual ownership of a newspaper and TV channel in markets where there are at least eight independently owned media businesses. However, such a TV channel cannot be among the four highest-rated in that market.

Data sourced from BBC Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff