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Copyright 2001 Boston Herald Inc.  
The Boston Herald

September 11, 2001 Tuesday ALL EDITIONS


LENGTH: 672 words

HEADLINE: FCC ruling could lead to consolidations

By GREG GATLINOpponents of easing limits on media ownership predict "a bloody battle" as federal regulators take up a review Thursday of long-standing restrictions on owning newspapers and broadcast outlets in the same market.

Figurative bloody battle predictions, however, may amount to little more than hot air, in light of a Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission, whose chairman has already questioned the validity of the restrictions. And federal judges are taking an increasingly hostile view of government limits on media ownership.

FCC commissioners Thursday are slated to address the controversial 26-year-old ban on common ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations in the same geographic area. A proposed rulemaking notice will kick off the review.

Possible results range from total retention of the restrictions, to total elimination, to something in between. The rulemaking notice sets the stage for public comments to the FCC.

Some predict easing the rule would trigger a new media consolidation wave, with publishers and broadcasters merging or swapping holdings to bulk up in geographic markets.  

Jeff Chester, executive director with the Center for Digital Democracy, says keeping the current restrictions in place is "worth fighting for."

"We're organizing a campaign with other consumer groups to preserve these rules," Chester said. "There's going to be a bloody battle over these rules."

Chester said the cross-ownership ban, along with other government restrictions on media ownership, are aimed at restraining a single company from gaining too much political power in a community. "The end result of eliminating all these rules will mean one company can own several TV stations, most of the radio stations, the cable system and a newspaper in a single town."

But FCC Chairman Michael Powell has said he's skeptical of blanket limits on media ownership, suggesting they violate First Amendment protections and do little to promote diversity.

Meanwhile, federal appeals judges last week took a harsh tone toward other media ownership limits, including one that prevents a television network from owning stations reaching more than35 percent of U.S. households.

Richard Wiley, a former FCC chairman who now represents the newspaper industry, says current limits have kept newspapers on the sidelines as other media have  consolidated. "With all the voices that you have     it's very hard for anybody to control the communications universe today. That's the case we have to make," he said.

Graphic: New media ownership rules coming?

The FCC on Thursday is expected to discuss easing limits that have been in place for 26 years that restrict a person or company from owning newspapers and broadcast outlets in the same market.

** Federal Communications Commission Commissioners

* Michael K. Powell, chairman


sworn in: November 3, 1997

Former Department of Justice Antitrust Division chief of staff.

Powell has said he's skeptical of blanket limits on media ownership, and has questioned whether current rules actually succeed in producing diversity of views. He's questioned the validity of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule.

** Commission members:

* Kathleen Q. Abernathy


Sworn in May 31, 2001.

Former director for government affairs at BroadBand One Inc., and a former partner in the Washington law firm of Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP.

* Michael J. Copps


Sworn in May 31, 2001.

Former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Trade Development at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Former staffer for U.S. Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), a staunch backer of keeping FCC ownership rules in place.

* Kevin J. Martin


Sworn in July 3, 2001.

Former Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy. Served on the Bush-Cheney Transition Team and was Deputy General Counsel for the Bush campaign. Former advisor to FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth.


LOAD-DATE: September 11, 2001

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