Hey, don't blame me, FCC Chairman Michael Powell seemed to be telling an ornery Senate panel grilling him over the newly relaxed ownership rules last week. The courts, he pleaded, practically ordered him to rejigger the rules more than a year ago. He cited the court's own words: "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"
But even Powell could not have envisioned how many missiles from legislators would come his way following what he labeled June 2's "modest" relaxation of the restrictions. The changes included removing the ban on newspaper/broadcast crossownership as well as allowing more duopolies (common ownership of two TV stations in a market) and, for the first time, triopolies (three TV stations).
"There was more bipartisan opposition to this than to anything I've ever seen," said James Quello, who served on the commission for 23 years. "It's a great time not to be a commissioner."
Meanwhile, broadcasters and newspaper publishers were dissecting the rules to find the opportunities to buy more stations in places they couldn't before. Watch for news of deals in the weeks ahead.
The rules were approved by a 3-2 party-line vote, with Republicans Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin joining Powell. Democrats Michael Copps and Kenneth Adelstein offered spirited dissents.
Copps called the FCC action a "headlong rush to media monopoly. ... This is a huge and foolhardy gamble with the future—every American's future."
The full story starts on page 18.