Wednesday, May 26, 2010

F.C.C. Begins Review of Regulations on Media Ownership

Published: May 25, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission said on Tuesday that it would begin soliciting public comments as part of a review and possible revision of its media ownership rules, which set limits on the ownership of multiple television and radio stations and newspapers in a single commercial market.

Julius Genachowski, chairman of the F.C.C.

The commission said its review, which by law takes place every four years, would focus on whether the current rules promoted the agency’s goals of competition, localism and diversity.

The ownership rules have been the subject of fierce debate in each of the two previous reviews under the Bush administration. They drew the ire of cable television companies, public interest groups and some members of Congress, including then-Senator Barack Obama.

Julius Genachowski, who was appointed chairman of the F.C.C. by President Obama, said the agency was seeking feedback that would “help ensure that our media ownership rules continue to protect consumer interests in today’s marketplace.”

Even as the commission undertakes its latest survey, it is still awaiting a federal appeals court ruling on the steps it took after the last review. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is considering an appeal of the F.C.C.’s decision in 2007 to relax its ban on cross ownership of a daily newspaper and a television station in the same market.

Also in 2007, the F.C.C. tightened the reins on the cable television industry, stipulating that no single company could control more than 30 percent of the market. That rule was struck down by a federal appeals court last August.

In its request for public comments, the F.C.C. said it was seeking opinion on whether its current ownership rules were necessary or in the public interest to promote competition in the media business.

But the agency also noted that it would look closely at the impact of consolidation of ownership on competition in media markets. Since the 1996 Telecommunications Act was put into effect, the number of commercial radio stations and commercial television stations has increased by 10 and 15 percent, respectively. But the number of owners of those media outlets has fallen by more than 30 percent in each case.

The F.C.C. also is seeking opinion on the impact of the Internet on consumers’ use of television and radio, as well as their ability to gain access to sources of news. As newspaper circulation has declined, the agency noted in its release, the number of people who say they get news online has increased.

But the agency also noted that 20 of the 25 most-visited news Web sites shared corporate owners with other television or newspaper companies.

Two F.C.C. commissioners who were part of the last review issued statements on Wednesday commenting on the effects of the agency’s recent actions. Michael J. Copps, a Democratic commissioner who opposed loosening the ownership rules, said that “fewer and fewer voices do not an informed electorate or robust democracy make.”

Commissioner Robert M. McDowell, a Republican commissioner, lamented that the agency had continued over the last eight years to put in place “burdensome rules” that impeded broadcasters and newspapers and which demonstrate the agency was “unable to fully adapt its regulations to the new realities” of the Internet age.

A version of this article appeared in print on May 26, 2010, on page B10 of the New York edition.

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