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Adelstein Joins Activists in Dereg Opposition

Determined to delay the FCC Chairman's planned June 2 vote on relaxing nearly all broadcast-ownership limits, an odd alliance of critics including Democratic FCC commissioners, media watchdogs, musicians, screenwriters and even some journalists is redoubling efforts to put the brakes on the deregulation train.

Latest to join the alliance is FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who last week lamented at a Media Institute luncheon, "I'm afraid that the FCC isn't only about to further McDonaldize the media, it's about to 'supersize' it."

Adelstein, allied with fellow FCC Democrat Michael Copps, said there is very little that he supports in an "extreme" FCC plan for loosening ownership limits (for one thing, he can't support supersizing the current 35% national ownership cap beyond 40%; the Powell plan goes for 45%).

As a price for any deregulation, Adelstein said, broadcasters should be required to file annual reports tallying new locally originated and oriented programming they produce, the number of news reporters added, increases in editorial budgets, technology investments, and emergency-alert improvements.

Adelstein said the FCC also should examine whether today's level of network ownership of stations and in-house programming combine to restrain competition and diversity of content.

The next day, an industry watchdog condemned the FCC's practice of using industry-supplied data to justify pending deregulation. "The idea that the FCC can render an objective, independent judgment about media ownership is laughable," said Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity.

The center has built—from FCC licensee reports—a 65,000-item database tracking ownership information on nearly every broadcast station, cable system and telephone company in America.

Accompanying that was a report that the media industry has spent $2.8 million over the past eight years funding 2,500 FCC staff and commissioners' trips to trade group conventions and events.

Also last week, Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America warned that a reported FCC plan to allow newspaper/broadcast combos in the top 150 markets would effectively homogenize news media in markets reaching 90% of viewers.

With the caveat that any loosening would be treading dangerous ground, Mark Cooper, research director for the Consumer Federation of America, said newspaper/broadcast crossownership can be justified in, at most, 10 markets. But even then, allowing any mergers must be rooted in rigorous local-market analysis.

Activists concede that there's little they can do to stop the FCC "juggernaut." Still, they hope Congress or the courts will overturn the FCC. Said Cooper: "The battle for media reform doesn't end on June 2. It begins on June 2."

Additional reporting by John Eggerton