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Legal challenges to a Federal Communications Commission overhaul of media ownership rules emerged Wednesday, with the regulations under fire both for allowing too few and too many mergers. The filings with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia were triggered by the publication of the FCC’s final rules in the Federal Register on Tuesday. The regulations will go into effect on Sept. 4. The Republican-dominated FCC eased decades-old rules governing ownership of newspapers and television and radio stations on June 2. That party-line vote approved changes that allow a single company to own TV stations reaching nearly half the nation’s viewers and combinations of newspapers and broadcast outlets in the same area. The National Association of Broadcasters said the changes don’t go far enough. The influential industry group filed an appeal to block changes to how radio markets are defined and overturn rules that still prevent TV station mergers in some smaller markets. NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton declined to comment. Separately, organizations representing more than 600 local television stations affiliated with ABC, CBS and NBC asked the court to reject the regulation that raised a TV ownership limit on the national reach of companies from 35 percent of U.S. households to 45 percent. Smaller broadcasters and network affiliates are concerned the new limit will allow the networks to gobble up more stations and limit local control of programming. The brief petitions with the court signal the beginning of appeals and will be followed by more detailed filings. More legal challenges to the rules are expected from consumer groups seeking stiffer restrictions and media companies wanting even more deregulation. Andrew Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project, a Washington-based media watchdog group, said the public interests groups his organization represents may file legal challenges with the courts or directly with the FCC as early as next week. Lawmakers from both parties are pushing to roll back some or all of the FCC changes, a fight expected to heat up when Congress returns from its August recess. Many media companies said changes to the rules were needed because the old regulations hindered their ability to grow and compete in a market altered by cable television, satellite broadcasting and the Internet. Critics warn that the FCC changes will lead to mergers that could put just a few companies in control of what most people see, hear and read. The government adopted the ownership rules between 1941 and 1975 to encourage competition and prevent monopoly control of the media. In 1996, Congress required the FCC to review the rules every two years and repeal or modify any regulation determined no longer in the public interest. Earlier proposed changes were sent back to the FCC after court challenges brought by media companies. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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