Last week's appeals court rejection of new rules that would have allowed greater concentrations of control by large media companies was a victory for consumers of news and entertainment, and for the principle that American democracy is nourished by a wide range of ideas.
Now the rule-making agency should get back to the basics of protecting the broad public interest rather than searching for ways to help a handful of large corporations tighten their grip on the media market. Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps, one of two commissioners opposing the new rules, was right to say of the court's decision: "We need to do our work and hold hearings and get it right this time."
Getting it right shouldn't be so hard, except that FCC Chairman Michael Powell and the Bush administration seem determined to continue their convoluted mission of pretending to protect the public interest while extending the reach of powerful supplicants like Viacom, Fox, Disney, Clear Channel, Gannett and others.
Frustration was the dominant emotion among big media executives following last Thursday's 2-1 decision by a panel of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. "Plans for expansion will be put on hold," said a lawyer for Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which owns the Fox Network, 35 local stations and the New York Post.
This is a frustration the public should welcome. Without the court ruling, companies in the largest cities could have owned as many as three television stations, eight radio stations and a cable operator, as well as a newspaper. New rules would also have allowed the largest television networks to buy more affiliated stations, although Congress quashed that provision earlier this year.
Indeed, bipartisan opposition in the Senate to excessive media concentrations would have already won the day but for House and administration insistence that the publishing-broadcasting empires become even more influential. Why? Because big outlets seem to deliver a product that people want, because broadcasters need greater leverage to compete against fee-driven TV, and because a proliferation of Internet, cable and satellite choices should lessen worries about media concentrations. At least that's the administration's rationale.
We agree, instead, with Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., who see clearly the perils of concentrating the nation's intellectual and creative capital into fewer and fewer hands.
© 2004 Star Tribune.