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FCC regs war.

When the Federal Communications Commission finally loosened media ownership rules in early June, it may have thought the battle was over.

Now, with implementation of those rules frozen by a federal appellate court in Philadelphia and no oral arguments until Nov. 5, another hurdle has sprung up. The U.S. Senate voted 55-40 last Tuesday to whack the deregulation.

Critics of deregulation, like our own Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., have said too much media ownership would be in too few conglomerate hands, choking diversity of opinions and hurting small media businesses.

But Arkansas' media market may not feel much impact because its small size would still have some barriers to cross-ownership, critics of the critics have noted.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has said in written statements that the new rules reflect a greater field of media competition due to satellite and cable TV than when the rules were last updated.

Mind you, some examples of media ownership that could occur in Arkansas with deregulation could include a single company in Little Rock owning two TV stations, eight radio stations and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Pryor said. A single company could own one daily newspaper, one TV station and four radio stations in Fort Smith or El Dorado.

The legislation, called a legislative veto, is binding and obviously had enough support from Congressional Democrats and Senate Republicans. But it next heads to the Republican-controlled House where deregulation foes see stiff opposition to the legislation--a vote may not even be called--and a far smaller chance of passage.

Were it to pass the House, then President Bush could still drop a veto on it. From there, supporters aren't excited about their chances at an override. Who would provide the 12 extra Senate votes is anybody's guess, but bipartisan support included Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.

The Senate and House recently passed a spending bill delaying by a year the rule allowing a company's share of the total national TV market to rise to 45 percent from 35 percent, so it may be some time before deregulation is felt anywhere in the country, much less Arkansas.

But again, with a presidential veto looming and a two-thirds override in the House taking something short of Moses standing before the Red Sea to occur, another question to ask here is whether this is pointless.

No doubt, a lack of media diversity--the likelihood of which is uncertain--isn't good. But, it ultimately seems to be in the federal court's hands and largely out of the hands of the legislative branch and to some degree out of the hands of the executive branch.
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Title Annotation:Federal Communications Commission media ownership rules
Author:Holcombe, Carl D.
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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