Senior executives from broadcasting group Viacom and newspaper publisher Tribune Company yesterday asked the Senate Commerce Committee to let federal regulators remove limitations on media ownership without opposition.

Viacom’s Mel Karmazin and Tribune’s Jack Fuller described current regulations – which Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell wants to relax – as out-of-date and accused them of contributing to current media woes.

“The broadcast business is dramatically changing all around us,” averred Karmazin. “Our audiences are dwindling, our margins are contracting and our share of advertising revenues is declining…Consumers, who should be central to this debate, do not benefit from the status quo when it is irrational, anti-competitive and an obstacle to expanded choice.”

Karmazin’s jeremiad, however, received little sympathy from Senator Ernest Hollings (Democrat, South Carolina), the new chairman of the Committee, who pointed out that Viacom was highly profitable. “I didn’t think profits [were] something to be embarrassed about,” retorted Karmazin, to which Hollings quipped: “You shouldn’t be embarrassed. I’d hire you this afternoon.”

Hollings intends to introduce legislation to preserve current limitations on media ownership, though many senators from both parties are thought to favour a change in the rules.

Viacom is a keen advocate of media liberalization – its recent purchase of CBS means it reaches 41% of US households, above the existing limit of 35%. The media group is due to fight against the threshold in the Federal Appeals Court later this year, until when this particular ownership cap has been temporarily suspended.

News source: New York Times