Stevens pushes for limit on TV station ownership

Senator opposes plan to abandon rule preventing media monopolies

Posted: Friday, May 16, 2003

FAIRBANKS - Sen. Ted Stevens is trying to prevent a change in federal rules on broadcasting that would allow major companies to control a larger piece of the national market.

Stevens, a Republican, has introduced legislation that would prevent the Federal Communications Commission from abandoning a rule that says a single company can't control more than 35 percent of the national audience.

The Republican majority of the FCC appeared to be heading toward a rule change that would allow more media concentration.

While Stevens supports the 35 percent ownership cap, he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner the FCC should modify another rule that prevents a company from owning a newspaper and television station in the same market.

Stevens issued a statement saying he wants the 35 percent cap because it "maintains a healthy balance" between locally owned and network-owned stations.

"If the national networks bought out our affiliates, the local stations would not be available to make decisions such as whether to cover items of primarily local interest, such as the Iditarod," Stevens said in the statement.

Stevens' bill is similar to one introduced in the House by Republican Rep. Richard Burr of North Carolina.

The bills would help "foster and promote diversity" and "prevent excessive concentration of ownership," Stevens' news release said.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the cross-ownership and nationwide cap issues on June 2. But the proposals are being kept secret.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell and the two other Republicans on the five-member commission favor loosening regulations, an outcome sought by many large media companies that say the rules are outdated and hurt business.

Michael Copps, one of the Democratic commissioners, said Powell is rushing to vote on proposals that could change the media landscape in ways not fully understood.

"The chairman's decision not to make these proposals public, nor even to grant a short delay in voting, runs roughshod over the requests of the American people," Copps said. "This is no way to do business when critical issues affecting every American are at stake."

The FCC is considering whether decades-old ownership restrictions still reflect a market altered by satellite broadcasts, cable television and the Internet. Critics say relaxed rules will lead to more mergers, leaving a few huge companies in control of what people see, hear and read.

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