The Federal Communications Commission overturned a 32-year ban Tuesday that prevented media companies from owning newspapers and broadcast outlets in the same markets.
Amid intense public outry, the measure was pushed through by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin with support from two fellow Republicans on the commission. Two Democrats opposed the measure.
Put in place by the FCC in 1975, the so-called cross-ownership ban is designed to promote a diversity of viewpoints on the airwaves in U.S. communities, as well as economic competition. Its opponents say the ban is outdated now that there has been a proliferation of new media outlets in recent years, and it's an onerous burden for the media industry.
"We cannot ignore the fact that the media marketplace is considerably different than it was when the newspaper broadcast cross-ownership was put in place more than 30 years ago," said Martin in a statement at the meeting.
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Under the new rules, one entity will be permitted to own a newspaper and one broadcast station in the same market, but it will be limited to the 20 largest markets in the nation. Also, following the transaction, there must be at least eight independently owned and operated media voices remaining in the market, and the television station may not be among the top four in the market.
Thanks to those restrictions, Martin's proposal has also drawn fire from the media industry, where opponents of the ban say the relaxation of the rules is too limited to make much of a difference.
On Monday, 25 senators, including four Republicans, sent Martin a letter threatening pass legislation to revoke the rule and nullify the commission's action. Such legislation is likely doomed, however, since Martin reportedly has the full support of the Bush administration.
"Today's story is a majority decision unconnected to good policy and not even incidentally concerned with encouraging media to make our democracy stronger," said Michael Copps, a Democrat on the commission, in a statement. "We are not concerned with gathering valid data, conducting good research, or following the facts where they lead us."
The last time the FCC tried to reform its media ownership rules, which limit the reach of media chains like
, it was successfully sued in court where a judge ruled in 2003 that it hadn't justified its proposed changes.
Similar legal action is expected to follow the commission's latest action.
"The FCC has never attempted such a brazen act of defiance against Congress," said Jonathan Adelstein, the other Democrat on the commission. "Like the Titanic, we are steaming at full speed despite repeated warnings of danger ahead. We should have slowed down rather than put everything at risk."