The legislative backlash against media consolidation continued last week as Sen. Russ Feingold introduced legislation intended to crack down on a string of alleged abuses by the radio industry and, in particular, Clear Channel, the country's largest operator.
"I'm committed to working for many, many years," said the Wisconsin Democrat briefing reporters on his bill last Thursday. Feingold predicted that a hearing and committee vote could be completed this year. His bill would:
- Strip conglomerates owning both radio stations and concert promoters of their broadcast licenses if they discriminate against unaffiliated musicians, promoters and stations.
- Trigger an FCC hearing to prove there is no discrimination when a radio merger gives the buyer a 60% national audience reach.
- Bar the FCC from raising limits on local radio ownership.
- Count radio local marketing and time brokerage agreements toward local ownership caps and outlaw LMA partnerships that bring an operator above 35% local-market audience or ad-revenue share.
- Forbid "payola" that some say requires record companies to pay a small group of promoters in order to obtain radio airtime.
- Require the FCC to ensure that Arbitron ratings are not manipulated.
The legislation comes in the wake of many accusations against Clear Channel, but Feingold also belongs to a growing chorus complaining that audiences have lost diverse viewpoints since the government greatly eased many media-ownership restrictions in 1996.
In a similar vein, Sens. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) in May called on the FCC to investigate the effect of consolidation on TV programming.
"This bill is not simply about Clear Channel," Feingold said. Financial markets agreed, hammering several radio stocks last week.
Apparently sensing that it was mostly
about his company, Clear Channel President Mark Mays denied that the biggest companies have too much power. "Radio is significantly less concentrated than most other information and entertainment industries."