“There’s really five companies that control 90 percent of what we read, see and hear. It’s not healthy,” That was the opinion of media mogul Ted Turner just days before the Federal Communications Commission voted on Tuesday to relax the limits on media ownership in the U.S. FCC chairman, Michael Powell, voted in favor of the changes and was joined by his fellow republicans to pass the proposal along party lines 3-2.
The rule changes will ease those that now prevent a television network from owning a newspaper and a rule that prohibits the number of television and radio stations that one company can own in a single region. Under the new provisions a single company can own a daily newspaper and a television station in the same city.
The controversial vote has stirred passions on both sides of the argument but particularly for those on the board opposed to it. Jonathan S. Adelstien one of the two democrats on the board said “this is the most sweeping and destructive rollback of consumer protection in the history of American broadcasting.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that ” the revision of the rules clears the way for further consolidation of the biggest media conglomerates,”
Powell dismissed such accusations saying, “if you listen to the spin you’d believe there’s going to be a massive buying opportunity, I don’t think it’s going to be nearly the level that some people are expecting.”
The networks believe that the competition from cable and the Internet make the relaxation of ownership rules the only way that free TV can survive. Powell agreed and said, “I’m proud of what we did.”
The changes may affect the ability of local stations to retain a sense of community as programming becomes more centralized at a national level. The ability of the local populace to influence the taste and flavor of the content might be diminished.
The effects of the Telecommunications act of 1996 that lifted ownership limits for radio stations were substantial. Before the change a company could own 40 stations. At the current time Clear Channel, the radio and multimedia conglomerate, owns 1,200 radio stations.
Experts don’t expect there to be any large mergers immediately. But the changes in radio might be a sign of what is to come.
In the past, radio DJ’s chose the songs they played. They would of course play those songs that were the biggest sellers but they could also take a chance with a new artist that they thought might be well accepted by their local audience.
A song might be introduced in the South and receive many requests and therefore many “plays.” As word would spread to another part of the country the song might be played on the West Coast and find an audience there. This process would be repeated over and over again and produce a national hit. This was the case with Elvis Preselys’ early success and that of many others well into the 1990’s. But since the Telecommunications act was adopted most station playlists’ are computer programmed with some DJs not in the same city they are broadcasting from.
Critics complained that there was not enough public discourse on the subject because only one public hearing was held where all the commissioners were present.
In a televised interview with Charlie Rose following the decision Powell countered that the information was there for anyone to access. He also said that sometimes the right decision is not always the most popular one. When asked if he was disappointed that the vote was decided down party lines he said yes he was and “At some point, this issue became very political.”