FC: Weekly column: A defense of the FCC's vote on media ownership

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Tue Sep 09 2003 - 07:25:22 PDT

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        Technology and the limits of media ownershipBy
        Declan McCullagh
        September 9, 2003, 4:00 AM PT
        Just what was so objectionable about the Federal Communications
        Commission's decision to slightly relax a few limits on media
        To hear critics assail the change, which is now on hold after last
        week's court ruling, you might think a constitutional Armageddon was
        at hand. Columnists warned that the decision "wounded democracy,"
        while The New York Times lauded the old rules as representing "the
        heart of our democracy." A report the AFL-CIO prepared before the vote
        even bears the grave title of "Democracy Unhinged."
        Huh? You'd never know it from all that anguished bleating about
        imperiled democracy, but the changes to the FCC's media ownership
        rules were entirely modest. If anything, they didn't go far enough.
        Some background: The FCC voted 3-2 on June 2 to relax rules that limit
        ownership of TV stations, radio stations and newspapers, saying
        decades-old regulations are obsolete, in part, because of the rise of
        the Internet and other new technologies. The new rules said broadcast
        networks could own TV stations, which combined reach 45 percent of the
        national audience, an increase of 10 percentage points.
        Note that does not mean a media company may own 45 percent of all
        stations. It simply means that a company's broadcasting reach may
        modestly expand, though it would still be far short of the national
        reach of, say, newspapers, cable networks or Web sites.
        What's more, mergers would still remain subject to antitrust review,
        and the new rule would only apply to about half a percent of stations
        nationwide. (If American democracy can survive the Civil War, Richard
        Nixon, Bill Clinton and the California recall, perhaps it could
        withstand a change of half a percent.)
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