A consumer watchdog group is urging Sen. John McCain to firmly oppose changes in media ownership rules being considered by the Federal Communications Commission.
The Arizona Consumers Council asked McCain, R-Ariz., this week to take a stand against the effort by the FCC to relax its current limits on media ownership.
The group said the proposed loosening of restrictions would encourage greater concentration of ownership in the industry and threaten quality, diversity and competition in the news media.
McCain is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC. The committee held a hearing last week on the upcoming FCC vote, which is scheduled to take place Monday. In an opening statement at the hearing, McCain said he is “disturbed by the statistic frequently cited . . . that five companies control 85 percent of our media sources.”
But he did not comment further, and spokeswoman Rebecca Hanks said McCain is not likely to stake out an official position before the FCC makes its decision.
“He has stayed out of the fray. He wants the FCC members to do what Congress has mandated them to do,” she said.
Current commission rules ban cross-ownership of television and newspapers in the same town, an effort to promote competition and diversity in local news coverage.
Those who want to ease the ownership rule, many of them large media conglomerates, say the rule has become outdated in an era of the Internet, 200 cable TV channels and other alternative information sources. Opponents of the FCC's plans say investigative reporting and local news coverage will dry up if a few mega-corporations are allowed to buy newspapers and televisions stations in the same markets.
The proposed overhaul could have an effect on media ownership in the Valley market because a relaxation might allow Gannett Corp., the owner of the Arizona Republic newspaper and KPNX-TV (Channel 12), to buy another television station in the Valley, said Phyllis Rowe, president of the Arizona Consumers Council.
On the other hand, if the existing rule against cross ownership remains in place, Gannett's dual ownership of the Republic and Channel 12 could be in jeopardy when Channel 12's operating license is due for renewal. With the Tribune Newspapers up for sale, the potential for further media consolidation in the Valley is “scary,” Rowe said.
“We need media competition in this market,” she said.
Hanks said Congress could potentially overrule the FCC, but only if legislation passes the Senate and House of Representatives and the law is signed by President Bush. At last week's hearing, McCain cited News Corp.'s proposed purchase of satellite operator DirecTV as an example of the growing media concentration.
News Corp., headed by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, already is owner of the Fox national broadcasting network; numerous cable programming channels, including 20 regional cable sports channels, Fox News, Fox Sports Net, and Fox Movie Channel; three movie/television studios, including 20th Century Fox; 35 local broadcast television affiliates; the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team; the New York Post newspaper; HarperCollins Publishers; and a majority interest in TV Guide magazine.