WASHINGTON: US regulators have narrowly approved sweeping new rules that will allow television conglomerates to buy more stations, despite fears that diversity and consumer choice will be eroded.
The Republican-led Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 to let networks own TV stations anywhere in the country that collectively reach 45% of the national audience. They also will permit local broadcasters to hold two stations in most markets, and will allow cross-ownership of newspapers, TV and radio stations in a market.
Major markets such as Atlanta, Detroit and San Francisco are seen by industry watchers as prime targets for station shopping by the four major networks – NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox. Newspaper owners like Tribune Co are expected to complement their operations with broadcast outlets.
While many in the industry said the rules – some of which date back to the 1940s – had not been eased enough, consumer groups decried the decision and lawmakers vowed to push legislation to roll back some of the changes. Court challenges are all but certain, industry experts say.
FCC chairman Michael Powell said the updated rules were needed to reflect new sources of entertainment and news via cable and the Internet, while nay-sayers predicted the new regulations would spark waves of mergers.
Under the new rules, a company can own two TV stations in markets where there are at least five stations, as long as one is not among the top four. A company can own three stations in markets with 18 stations, such as Los Angeles.
In markets with nine TV stations, a company can own a daily newspaper, a TV station and several radio stations.
Markets with four to eight TV stations would have stricter limits.
The FCC kept a ban on mergers among the four top TV networks – ABC owned by Walt Disney Co, Viacom Inc’s CBS, News Corp’s Fox, and NBC. – Reuters