Copps: FCC May Tighten Media-Ownership Rules

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By: Todd Shields

(Mediaweek) The Federal Communications Commission could consider tightening media-ownership regulations as it rewrites them to satisfy a federal appeals court, Commissioner Michael Copps said Wednesday.

Copps, a Democrat who has led opposition to Republican Chairman Michael Powell’s attempt to loosen media-ownership rules, called for public hearings to begin soon. They would be followed by a rules-drafting and public comment period that could produce new regulations by the middle of 2005, Copps said.

“If the reality says maybe there’s been too much media consolidation, we might even want to tighten” regulations, Copps told reporters in his office at FCC headquarters in Washington.

A federal appeals court last week returned the rules to the FCC, saying the agency had failed to justify the new, looser limits it proposed on local media ownership. At issue are limits on owning multiple TV stations in a community, limits on owning a broadcast station and a nearby daily newspaper, and rules aimed at making it more difficult to own more radio stations in some markets.

Copps said the June 24 ruling by the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals shows “this commission went way too far.”

“It should be clear to my colleagues, and I hope it is, we need to reverse course,” Copps said.

Powell has not laid out a path for the agency’s response to the court’s ruling. He has suggested considering the rules individually, rather than in a group as they have been handled by the agency. Copps said an individual approach “confuses the issue.” Copps said he and Powell had not discussed what approach to take.

A stay issued by the court remains in effect until the FCC wins approval of its rewritten rules.

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