Consumer Groups Wary Of Cross-Ownership Reform

By: David Ho, Associated Press Writer

(AP) Consumer groups are criticizing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for what they see as a push toward relaxing restrictions on media company mergers.

A coalition of groups issued a report Sunday that predicts weakened media ownership rules will cause a flood of mergers, reduce competition, and put a handful of huge companies in control of what people watch, hear, and read.

“The public does not support the FCC’s push toward concentrated media markets,” said Mark Cooper, research director for the Consumer Federation of America. “The First Amendment is about ensuring vibrant civic discourse through diversity of viewpoints and vigorous competition.”

The FCC is studying whether current ownership restrictions are appropriate in a market altered by the growth of the Internet, satellite broadcasts, and cable television. In September, the agency began reviewing the effects of ownership rules on competition, advertising, local news outlets, and the diversity of voices to provide news and information.

Many media companies support changes. They contend outdated regulations restrict their ability to grow and stay competitive.

Analysts say Michael Powell, the FCC chairman, and the two other Republicans on the five-member commission are intent on loosening the regulations.

In their report, the consumer groups said recent FCC studies on media ownership rules examined the wrong issues. The groups said the FCC ignored the size and diversity of populations served by the media.

The report also said more lenient rules would cause newspapers to be integrated with TV stations, taking away their independent ability to criticize the electronic media.

The FCC is planning a hearing in February in Richmond, Va., to get public opinion on its media ownership review. The agency has said it expects the review and any potential changes to the rules to be completed by spring.

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