WASHINGTON – Within minutes of the FCC decision Monday to let companies increase their media holdings in single markets, lawmakers began blasting the decision.
"The decision today by the [FCC] is a blow to diversity, competition and the public having access to multiple sources of information," Reps. Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas, chairman of Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and David Wu, D-Ore., chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in a written statement.
"We are extremely concerned that these new changes will significantly undermine current FCC rules that were intended to promote minority participation, and preserve multiple media voices and opinions in the electronic and print media industries," they said.
On the floor of the Senate, Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., called the decision "dumb and dangerous," and warned it will result in "an orgy" of mergers and acquisitions. He said the new rules will mean less diversity and will result in a system with many stations, but just "one ventriloquist."
The FCC voted 3-2 on party lines to update the rules on media ownership. The new rules allow the broadcast networks to own television stations that reach a combined 45 percent of the national audience, up from 35 percent, and lift a ban that prevents a company from owning both a newspaper and a television or radio station -- except in the smallest markets.
The FCC kept in place a ban on mergers among the four largest television networks -- ABC owned by Walt Disney Co., CBS owned by Viacom Inc., News Corp.'s Fox network and NBC, run by General Electric.
News Corp. is the parent company of the Fox News Channel, which operates FOXNews.com.
Proponents of the changes said that the massive increase in satellite and cable television channels as well as the Internet means that concentration of news, information and entertainment has been diluted.
Speaking after the vote, FCC chairman Michael Powell shut down critics, saying the rules, which had been put in place between 1945 and 1971, will allow for greater diversity.
"Our actions will advance our goals of diversity and localism," Powell said. He said the old restrictions were too outdated to survive legal challenges and the FCC "wrote rules to match the times."
But opponents, who numbered many on Capitol Hill Monday, said "greed" motivated the decision. Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi said allowing one company to dominate the print and broadcast media in one city or market isn't fair to the people who live there.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said he would call for congressional hearings on the issue.
"Now that the FCC has acted, Congress must step up and exercise its legislative and oversight responsibility to review these new media ownership rules and alter them in a manner that serves the public interest," he said.
Dorgan also said he would try to block new ownership from going into effect.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.