FCC Chariman Powell and Sen. Byron Dorgan, who opposes the media ownership rule changes the FCC voted in yesterday, on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer:
- TERENCE SMITH: To explain the new ownership rules, we’re joined by the commission’s chairman, Michael Powell. Commissioner Powell, welcome to the broadcast. Would you make the case for these rules and the action taken today particularly in regard to how it would stimulate competition among media organizations, since that was one of the goals that the commission set for itself.
MICHAEL POWELL: Yeah, I think it’s important to note, I have to say at the outset that one of the reasons for the rules is because Congress set up a regime in 1996 obligating the commission to review them every two years, and the court has taken a very strenuous view requiring the commission to prove why a rule was necessary. All the rules that we had until today had been struck down and were unenforceable, so by today’s action trying to build a stronger foundation for the preservation of the rules and modifying them slightly, I believe we’ve reinstated meaningful limits that will operate in the marketplace.
On another note, I think there are many areas where there is going to be strong public interest benefit as a consequence of our choice because we will make a free over-the-air TV somewhat more competitive with the continued stresses they face with cable television, for example. In recent years, a majority of Americans have now moved to pay television. Eighty-seven percent of all Americans get their news, entertainment and information from cable or satellite. That has put an increasing fragment… that has caused an increasing fragmentation of viewers and medium-supported solely by advertising increasingly is looking for opportunities in order to ensure their competitiveness with cable.
The result of that is so that more and more quality program can stay on free TV and not find its way to cable. A citizen is hard pressed to see any sports season anymore on television. They see it on cable. I’ve been concerned by the growing creep of quality programs and series to pay television formats…..
TERENCE SMITH: Now, for an opposing view, we turn to Senator Byron Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, and a member of the Senate Commerce Committee which oversees the FCC and the communications industries. Senator Dorgan, welcome.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Thank you very much.
TERENCE SMITH: First, give me your reaction to what you’ve just heard from Commissioner Powell.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Well, first of all, I like Michael Powell. I think these policies that the FCC has embraced today are terrible policies. I regret very much that they’ve taken the action they did.
I wasn’t able to actually to identify what they did today based on my hearing Chairman Powell speak tonight. It did seem to me he was in favor of competition and a whole series of things that reflect localism and diversity. The fact is that is not the case with respect to what they did today.
Seldom have I seen a regulatory agency cave in so completely to the big economic interests. That’s exactly what happened today with the FCC rules. And Chairman Powell kept suggesting slight modifications. It’s not slight at all. This is a big deal. It’s going to affect what the American people can see, can hear, can read.
Let me emphasize something that was in your set-up piece. After what the FCC did today, it is likely, in fact, that in big American cities we will see the same company own the newspaper, three television stations, eight radio stations and the cable system in that city all under one company. And I don’t know what happened to this notion of competition, but I’m telling you it’s not there. It’s not embedded anywhere in the FCC’s decision…..
Tomorrow’s Senate hearing, with all five Commissioners scheduled to speak, will be very interesting.