The Federal Communications Commission voted Monday to relax media-ownership restrictions, as chief Michael Powell continues to ease regulation of the communications industries.

The rules, adopted by a 3-2 vote along party lines at the Republican-controlled agency, will enable companies to buy more television stations as well as to own a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in the same city.

Big media stocks, which many observers have suggested would benefit from the new policy, rose slightly Monday amid a marketwide rally. AOL Time Warner ( AOL), News Corp. ( NWS), Viacom ( VIA) and Disney ( DIS) -- the owners of the four big TV networks -- each rose between 2% and 3%.

Critics have charged that the new rules would be a boon to the big conglomerates that already own a significant proportion of the nation's TV stations and newspapers, and that media concentration has already reduced the number of independent viewpoints available to consumers. But proponents of the new measure, including the big media firms, said the new rules would only level a playing field already radically remade by the onslaught of cable TV and direct broadcast satellites.

In taking the action, the agency lifted a ban on joint ownership of a newspaper and a broadcast station in big cities. The provision lifts all "cross-ownership" restrictions in markets with nine or more TV stations. Smaller markets would face some limits and cross-ownership would be banned in markets with three or fewer TV stations.

The FCC also said a single company can now own TV stations that reach 45% of U.S. households instead of 35%. The major networks wanted the cap eliminated, while smaller broadcasters said a higher cap would allow the networks to gobble up stations and take away local control of programming.

The agency also eased rules governing local TV ownership so one company can own two television stations in more markets and three stations in the largest cities such as New York and Los Angeles.

"The more you dig into this order the worse things get," Michael Copps, one of the commission's Democrats, told the Associated Press. He said the changes empowers "a new media elite" to control news and entertainment.