February 12, 1999
FCC could ease station ownership limits
By Jeannine Aversa
WASHINGTON (February 12, 1999 5:14 p.m. EST) - Singer Stevie Wonder, who owns a California FM radio station, urged federal regulators Friday not to ease restrictions on media ownership, saying it would hurt minority-owned radio and TV stations.
Minority station owners are "an endangered species pursued by large corporate predators who consume the single and small owner," Wonder told a Federal Communications Commission hearing.
"Public interest demands and public interest requires the protection of stations who stand alone like the dots in a Pac Man game destined to be gobbled up by" media conglomerates, said Wonder, who owns Los Angeles-area FM station KJLH.
The FCC is considering easing existing rules that limit the number of local TV and radio stations that a single company can control.
Wonder and others fear that doing so will bring about more consolidation, making it harder for minority-owned stations and stations not part of a chain to compete against media conglomerates.
FCC Chairman Bill Kennard called Wonder's testimony "very, very compelling."
Jeffrey Marcus, president of Chancellor Media Corp., meanwhile, called the FCC's ownership restrictions "glacial remnants of a regulatory Ice Age" that make it difficult for broadcasters to compete against cable TV and other media companies.
He urged the FCC to let broadcasters own more radio and TV stations in the same markets.
A 1996 telecommunications law eased some restrictions but required the commission to consider changing, or even eliminating, other limits in light of competition.
The FCC hearing focused on just three of those rules and possible changes to them. Those rules:
- Forbid a single company to own more than one local TV station in a given market.
- Prohibit a company from owning a TV station and a radio station in the same market unless the FCC grants a waiver.
- Permit local marketing agreements, or "LMAs," which allow one TV station to operate another TV station in the same market, but not actually own it.
The FCC is considering giving stations a little leeway to own a second TV station in a given market. It also is considering letting a company own both a TV station and up to four radio stations in a market. But companies with existing waivers to the TV-radio restriction could be forced to sell some properties.
The agency also is considering tightening the LMA rules and counting these stations toward federal ownership limits, a move that could force some broadcasters to abandon their agreements.
Marcus and other broadcasters believe the FCC's proposals don't give them enough regulatory relief.
Key lawmakers who deal with telecommunications agree. Among them are Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., House Commerce Committee chairman Thomas Bliley, R-Va., and the panel's top Democrat John Dingell of Michigan.
Deregulation opponents think the FCC's proposals give broadcasters too much freedom. Allowing companies to own more local stations threatens editorial diversity, they contend.
"It most certainly does not replenish the creative gene pool to ensure that broadcasting can stay in touch with ethnic and social diversification of American society," said Andy Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project, a public interest law firm.
Copyright © 1999 Associated Press
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