ACLU Applauds Senate Block of New FCC Media Rules, Calls Bipartisan Vote a Victory for Marketplace of Ideas

September 16, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded the Senate for adopting a resolution that seeks to repeal new media ownership rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), saying that if the rule remains in place, media monopolies would stifle an open and diverse exchange of views on the nation’s airwaves.

“Media mega-mergers would only erode the vibrant marketplace of ideas that is so essential to modern American democracy,” said Marvin Johnson, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “To have one company providing all of the information in one market diminishes one of the greatest aspects of America – a free and open dialogue among the informed citizenry on the issues at hand.”

At issue were new rules adopted in June by the FCC that dramatically relaxed the regulations governing ownership of media outlets in various markets. Essentially, the rule changes would allow for large media conglomerates to expand their market presence in all forms of media – print, radio and televised – in locations throughout the country. Not only would outlets be able to own more market share of one form of media, but they would also be able to increase their market presence across the board.

The Senate today voted 55-40 to repeal the implementation of that rule, despite the threat of a veto from President Bush. Twelve Republicans crossed the aisle to vote for the measure, and two Democrats voted against it. Senators who voted for the measure cited concerns that placing too much power and influence in the media into the hands of a few select conglomerates would take a toll on democracy and suppress open discussions. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) voted against the measure, but stated his concerns with the new FCC rules.

The new rules have proven highly controversial in the House also. In July, the House voted to prevent the implementation of a specific portion of the rule that would allow media corporations to operate TV stations that would reach 45 percent of national viewers, an increase from the previous 35 percent. The ACLU and other groups also criticized the FCC for making the rule making process overly secretive and claimed that it ignored overwhelming public support against the rule changes.

More recently, a Federal Appeals Court in Philadelphia blocked the new rules from being implemented. Arguments in that case are scheduled to be heard in November. There are also various other legal challenges to the new rules that are still pending.

“When all the media voices speak as one, there is little diversity of ideas, and the public is deprived of varying viewpoints,” added Johnson. “The new rules not only muffle the voices of today, but would prevent new voices from entering the market. Our public deserves better, and we commend the Senate for its action today.”

The ACLU’s letter to the Senate on the new FCC Rules can be found at:

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