TV limits get support

Clinton tells FCC to keep current station ownership rules

WASHINGTON — The Clinton administration broadsided broadcasters Thursday, telling the FCC that it should keep its current ownership limit of one TV station per market.

In comments filed by the Commerce Dept., the Clinton administration also urged the FCC to tighten current rules which allow a company to own a sizable stake in a TV station without that investment counting under the ownership limits. The Commerce Dept. told the FCC that it should count a station against a company’s ownership cap if it holds a stake of 33% or more in the property.

Last November the FCC put all its ownership rules on the table, saying it would entertain suggestions from broadcasters on proposals to relax current ownership limits. The move focused on television ownership, since the radio industry won broad ownership deregulation in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. That act raised the national TV ownership limit to stations which have a total audience reach of 35% of TV households, but left local limits in place.

National Assn. of Broadcasters president Eddie Fritts said Thursday that the television industry needs the deregulation in order to compete, not just with cable but also with a sudden influx of rival technologies. Fritts said the Commerce Dept. advice would “prevent free over-the-air broadcasters from competing in a multichannel environment that includes cable, DBS, telephone companies and the Internet.”

In its comments, the Commerce Dept. cited concerns about growing concentration in the media in recent years and fears that further deregulation would decrease the already small opportunity for minorities to own a TV station.

“A change in current local ownership limitations may reduce opportunities for minorities below the meager levels that already exist,” said the Commerce Dept.

The administration also urged the FCC to conduct a further study of Local Marketing Agreements before giving its blessing to the deals, which allow one TV station to manage the advertising sales and programming at another station in the same market.

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