- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2003

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Small groups of demonstrators marched and chanted across the country, urging federal regulators not to give large media companies more control over the nation’s newspapers, television and radio stations.

In Los Angeles, about 60 people marched outside Clear Channel talk-radio station KFI on Thursday, with signs reading, “No Choice, No Voice: Reclaim Our Airwaves.”

The Federal Communications Commission, set to meet Monday, is to consider eliminating many restrictions on media ownership in the same city. Another proposal would raise an existing market cap that prevents any one company from owning a combination of TV stations that reach more than 35 percent of U.S. households.

“We’re frozen out,” said Karen Pomer, a member of the group Code Pink, which organized the Los Angeles protest and rallied for peace during the Iraq war. “All of this is benefiting conservative voices.”

In Pittsburgh, about a dozen people protested outside the Clear Channel building. In New York, about 150 people picketed radio station WWPR, carrying signs that read, “Farewell Free Speech, We’ll Miss You,” and “The Airwaves Belong to the People, not Clear Channel.” The New York protest was organized by United for Peace and Justice N.Y., an antiwar group.

Clear Channel — which owns 1,200 stations nationwide, including nine in Los Angeles — has become a favorite target for those who oppose deregulation. A company spokesman said media coverage of Thursday’s protests proves diverse viewpoints are not ignored.

“Americans today have more diverse choices for entertainment, news and information than ever before,” said Andrew Levin, Clear Channel’s senior vice president for government affairs. “Radio is the only medium I know where the customer can switch providers at 60 mph.”

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has said regulatory changes are needed to reflect a market altered by cable TV, satellite broadcasts and the Internet. If the FCC doesn’t act, outdated rules will be swept away by court challenges, he said.

The two Democrats on the five-member commission oppose relaxing restrictions on media ownership, while the three Republicans on the panel support it.

Broadcast industry representatives have met with FCC officials 71 times to discuss media-ownership rules since the agency began its current review in September, the Center for Public Integrity reported yesterday. The meetings included dozens of private sessions with commissioners and their top advisers, the watchdog group said.

Republican Commissioner Kevin Martin has held 16 meetings with officials from media companies, including the major TV networks, Clear Channel and Gannett Inc., the report said. Mr. Martin, a Republican, favors easing ownership rules, but is often seen as a swing vote. Other commissioners attended eight or fewer meetings, while Mr. Powell attended four, the report said.

Large media companies such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which owns television stations as well as the Fox network, have lobbied for regulatory change. Mr. Murdoch is also seeking regulatory approval for his purchase of a controlling share of the satellite-television service DirecTV.

Another media titan, Ted Turner, is on the opposite side. In an op-ed piece yesterday in The Washington Post, he wrote that even though he’s a major shareholder in conglomerate AOL Time Warner, he believes the proposed rules “will stifle debate, inhibit new ideas and shut out smaller businesses trying to compete.”

Mr. Turner started an empire as a fledgling entrepreneur with the purchase of a UHF television station. No one could do that now, he wrote, because “they’re all bought up.”

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