The debate over relaxation of media ownership rules in the U.S. is heating up — and Daily Variety believes that’s a good thing.Too many media regs have either been put in place — or removed –over the last decade with only perfunctory or pro forma discussion. This time around the stakes are high and the varying positions need to be aired as completely and dispassionately as possible. If the ownership rules are relaxed, congloms could own any number of outlets in the same market, whether newspapers, radio or TV stations. Also, they would be allowed to reach a far greater percentage of the national aud. Naturally the media congloms have been lobbying hard for such strictures to be removed, arguing that they need such liberalization in order to compete on a global scale. Network execs say current rules aren’t needed now that there is vibrant competition, whether from cable or satcasting. But given how consolidation has already changed the shape of the entertainment biz over the last five years, a number of unlikely constituents are voicing their concerns. A coalition of indie producers, showbiz guilds and Madison Avenue types claim that congloms like Viacom, News Corp. and NBC shouldn’t be allowed to further lock up programming and distribution. On Thursday FCC commissioners will trek to Columbia U. for a day-long forum on further media consolidation. FCC chairman Michael Powell had repeatedly refused to convene official FCC hearings as part of the review process, but more recently, he softened his stance, agreeing to show up for the session at Columbia. A Los Angeles hearing has been tentatively set for Feb. 18 at USC, with FCC commissioners Jonathan Adelstein, Michael Copps and Kevin Martin pencilled in. Let all sides have their say.
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