The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 along party lines today to approve the relaxation of media ownership rules that will allow large corporations to further control our nation’s media. Despite outspoken opposition from the FCC’s two Democratic commissioners and overwhelming criticism from the public, the FCC voted to approve changes championed by FCC Chairman Michael Powell.
“The proposed changes are such a threat to First Amendment freedoms that even some Republicans on Capitol Hill have been brave enough to oppose them,” wrote Washington Post Columnist Tom Shales. “And yet, a fat lot of good it does. [Powell] wants to plow ahead with his deregulation scheme no matter what. It appears he is trying to do more damage than any other chairman in FCC history.”
The specifics of Powell’s changes include a change in the media ownership cap to allow a single company to own TV stations that reach 45 percent of households in the US; and the rewriting of two existing “cross-ownership” rules that would lift current restrictions that keep companies from owning a newspaper and a radio or TV station in the same market or radio and TV stations in the same market.
“The goal is homogenization in order to contain costs,” Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a group that has fought the changes, told the New York Times. “But that homogenization creates a kind of cookie-cutter blandness.”
This deregulation will now likely face court challenges. In addition, a bipartisan bill has been drafted in the US Senate to keep the TV audience cap at 35 percent. However, it is unclear whether the Senate’s Republican leadership in supports the bill, Reuters reported. A similar bill in the House of Representatives has been opposed by Rep. Bill Tauzin (R-LA), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee that oversees the FCC, according to Reuters.