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FCC decision gives companies more power over media

Discussion /

June 3, 2003 Posted: 3:39 AM EDT (0739 GMT)
FCC Chairman Powell:
FCC Chairman Powell: "It's our responsibility not to govern by polls and surveys."  

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Monday to give companies more power to own media outlets, such as television stations and newspapers. Some critics fear the decision will give media companies too much power in dominating U.S. markets.

Viacom is an example of a company that currently owns several television stations, including CBS, BET, and Nickelodeon. And AOL Time Warner owns brands like HBO, CNN, Warner Brothers, and Time Magazine.

If the FCC gets its way, companies will be soon be allowed to own both newspapers and television stations in some U.S. cities. The organization's chairman says the decision updates media rules for today's market.

The FCC vote was split down party lines, which means that the organization's three Republicans voted in favor of the move, while the two Democrats in the group voted against it.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell said the vote would not drastically affect what the U.S. audience sees on television. "As (people) watch TV in the next coming days, months, and weeks, they're not going to see something radically different than they have seen for decades," Powell said.

Some critics of the vote, however, fear it could pave the way for large companies to have virtual monopolies (total control) over the ways people get information.

As protestors demonstrated outside FCC headquarters, commissioners who disagreed with the move voiced their opinions inside the organization. "I dissent because today, the FCC empowers America's new media elite with unacceptable levels of influence over the ideas and information upon which our society and our democracy depend," said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps.

The new rules do not completely deregulate (remove restrictions on) media companies. But they will allow companies to expand their audience reach to 45 percent of the country. Previously, companies were limited to a reach of 35 percent. Newspapers will be allowed to own television stations in the same market, and one company will be allowed to control two stations in the same region.

FCC Media Bureau Chief Kenneth Ferree said, "Every market is not the same. Not all markets are created equally. So we tried to come up with a flexible program that looks at market size."

Some major media companies have already said that they plan to buy more stations and invest in more markets. Critics say that move could result in cutbacks for local journalism companies, and that community issues may get less media coverage.

Congress has the power to amend the new media rules if lawmakers decide that changes are necessary.

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