Television

US government spokes media majors' expansion plans, not to appeal court ruling

MUMBAI: It can be called a major setback for US media conglomerates and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Bush administration last week opted not to appeal against a lower court's decision that barred the easing of regulations that would make it trouble free for companies to expand and hold larger market shares.

While, the FCC had tried to ease media ownership restrictions, the US Court of Appeals said that it had failed to sufficiently justify the limits it set. Media companies planned to question whether the ruling was constitutional and hence the FCC refrained from joining in that effort.

A media report said that while News Corp.'s Fox, Viacom Inc.'s CBS, General Electric Co.'s NBC, Tribune Co and many other companies had until today (31 January) to decide whether to appeal the ruling, the decision by acting solicitor general Paul Clement makes it less likely the Supreme Court will agree to review the decision. Also a separate Supreme Court appeal was to be filed today by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which represents 1,100 local TV stations.

The restrictions have been brought about so as to prevent a few companies from being all pervasive in the media scene.

Media Access Project president and CEO Andrew Jay Schwartzman was quoted in a media report as saying that this was another indication that the broad and bipartisan public opposition to media concentration has become too powerful to be ignored. "Without support from the government, it is very unlikely that the Supreme Court agree to review last June's appeals court decision throwing out the FCC's media ownership deregulation policies. That is why the major TV networks and largest newspaper publishers in the country aggressively lobbied the administration to join in seeking Supreme Court," Schwartzman was quoted as saying.

On 2 June, 2003, the FCC had relaxed old rules restricting media ownership, which permitted companies to buy more television stations and own a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in the same city.

If the FCC had had its way, a single company could have owned TV stations that reached 45 per cent of US households. What is operative currently is that the earlier 35 per cent limit was taken off the table when Congress in 2004 set the audience reach ceiling at 39 per cent by a statute.

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