July 14, 2005

FCC delays effort to set media ownership rules

By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. communications regulators on
Thursday unexpectedly put off launching an effort to revise
media ownership restrictions, unable to agree on several
issues, including how many public hearings to hold.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission had planned to
launch an inquiry on what to do with relaxed ownership limits
that had been set aside by a U.S. appeals court, but the four
commissioners could not agree on the terms of the inquiry.

Disputed issues included how many public hearings the
agency would hold, how much money would be spent on independent
studies and how long the public would have to comment on the
matter, according to one FCC official.

The last attempt to relax limits on overlapping media
holdings drew national scrutiny, created alliances between
normally opposing political forces, attracted millions of
written comments and Congress intervened to set one

The FCC in 2003 lifted a ban in most major markets that
barred a company from owning a newspaper and a television or
radio station in the same market. Television station owners
were also allowed to own two or three outlets in more markets.

But an appeals court in 2004 said the FCC failed to
sufficiently justify the new limits and put the rules on hold.

Media conglomerates like Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago
Tribune and several television stations, say they need the
restrictions eased so they can consolidate properties and
compete more effectively with the explosion of news and
entertainment on cable and the Internet.

Consumer advocates and political organizations feared that
consolidation in the media industry would make it harder for
their voices to be heard.

The agency also permitted television networks to own
stations that collectively reach 45 percent of the national
audience, but Congress rebuked the FCC and reduced that limit
to 39 percent, approximately the reach of Viacom Inc. and News