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Clearing the way for consolidation in the media sector, the Federal Communications Commission on Monday morning approved sweeping new rules that relax many ownership limits. As expected, the vote was along party lines. The three Republican commissioners, led by Chairman Michael Powell, united to approve the overhaul over the objections of both Democrats on the commission. “People today have more information from more diverse sources than any time in history,” FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin said in explaining the need for overhauling the rules. The rule revamps a variety of limits on media ownership. Eliminated in most metropolitan areas is the restriction on owning a broadcast outlet and newspaper in the same market. Also, a company may own up to three television stations in markets with 18 or more television stations. In other markets, a company may own up to two television stations. However, the FCC will not permit mergers among the four largest stations in a market. The FCC will also permit a company to own television stations or cable systems that reach up to 45 percent of U.S. households, up from the current 35 percent limit. For radio mergers, the FCC attempted to make the rules less complex. Rather than using a Byzantine system to determine which stations competed against each other, the agency will use the same geographic markets defined by the companies which calculate the ratings in major cities. The vote occurred at 11 a.m. Monday, despite attempts by protesters to drown out Powell as he announced the decision. Michael Copps, one of two Democratic commissioners to vote against the changes, issued a strongly worded statement of dissent Monday, saying the FCC’s decision “empowers America’s new media elite with unacceptable levels of influence over the media on which our society and our democracy so heavily depend.” Copyright (c)2003 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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