A Vigorous Debate On Ownership Caps

The Federal Communications Commission opened its media-consolidation debate to the public last week and heard vehement arguments over its proposals to relax media-ownership rules.

At the often-raucous hearing Thursday in Richmond, Va., Deborah McDermott, evp at Young Broadcasting, argued the rules are “essential” for preserving local voices. Thomas Herwitz, president of station operations at Fox Television Stations, said he was “confounded” by that claim, because his 35-station group has added local newscasts after buying stations.

Michael Copps, a Democratic commissioner, said the views aired gave him leads for further inquiry into how eliminating the rules might hamper local or issue-oriented advertisers. The Republican-dominated FCC, led by Michael Powell, has a late-spring deadline to determine whether to weaken or eliminate rules restricting broadcast ownership.

Also last week, Michigan Rep. John Dingell told a House panel he has “serious concerns” about weakening ownership rules. Dingell is the senior Democrat on the Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC. Rep. Clifford Stearns, R-Fla., introduced a bill to relax the cap that limits broadcasters to stations reaching 35 percent of the national audience.

The Information Policy Institute, a New York research group, has argued that eliminating the cap will mean “a drastic reduction in [ad agencies’] ability to negotiate prices.” There is no consensus on the issue at the American Association of Advertising Agencies.