Confab to review studies that say rules are outdated

Taking a step toward serious scrutiny of eased media ownership rules, Columbia U.’s law school has set a daylong public hearing over the FCC’s proposed loosening of the regulations for Jan. 16.

Confab — which is not under the FCC’s aegis — will be the first comprehensive event to review the dozen Federal Communications Commission studies, which argue that the current rules are outdated.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps told Daily Variety that he’s encouraged by the development and hopes it means that several more such events will take place before the expected FCC vote in the spring. He said various orgs have held preliminary discussions about the possibility of other hearings in Los Angeles or San Francisco but added that nothing definite has been set.

Copps also said he plans to attend if asked. “I am hoping there will be a national dialogue on the proposed changes,” he added.

Columbia’s move comes two weeks after FCC chair Michael Powell agreed to hold at least one public hearing on the agency’s plan, setting a hearing for Richmond, Va., sometime in February. Powell had been criticized for initially refusing to hold such confabs, asserting that written responses were the appropriate means of obtaining public input.

Next month’s event will be held at the Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts at Columbia Law School.

“This forum gives an opportunity to those who will be directly affected to voice their thoughts and opinions regarding these proposed changes,” said June Besek of the Kernochan Center. “We have invited a wide range of panelists from studio heads to independent producers, from politicians to the public in addition to the FCC commissioners who will ultimately make the decisions.”

Powell and others have argued that ownership rules may not be as necessary when there are so many media outlets such as cable, satellite and the Internet. Key FCC rules that could be eased include a national cap prohibiting a broadcaster from reaching more than 35% of the national aud; a national cap blocking cablers from reaching more than 30% of the national aud; and a cross-ownership ban on owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same major market.

Opponents, including the WGA, AFTRA and the Communications Workers of America have contended that the FCC studies are flawed and that media concentration will put the brakes on the free flow of information and ideas and negative impact local news and participation in local government.

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