The Federal Communications Commission approved a controversial measure relaxing rules on media ownership on Monday. The change will allow one company to own newspapers, TV and radio stations in a single market.
Chairman Michael Powell says the nation's broadcasters needed a relaxation of ownership requirements to keep them economically viable. Powell says this will not cause a monopoly because he says there's more diversity now with cable television, satellite broadcasts and the Internet.
Critics argue media corporations will become much more powerful and oblivious to the public interest. Some of those criticizing the FCC's decision include media executives right here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They say putting more media resources into fewer hands could hurt a small market area like South Mississippi.
WJZD's station owner, Rip Daniels, says his greatest fear is how a new wave of media monopolies could ultimately hurt listeners.
"Heaven forbid, you've got a company that owns the television station, the radio station and the newspaper," Daniels said. "Then, theoretically, the manager of that conglomerate could control what news is carried, what information is considered news."
WLOX viewers can tune into more than six newscasts each day. But company executives say it is special programming that could take the biggest hit under these new rules.
"If we want to pre-empt for something like Viewpoint Youth, or for election returns, or for a special or some other unique program to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we get a lot of pressure from the network not to do that." Liberty Corporation Vice President of operations Leon Long said. "As they raise the cap and they reach a greater number of people, small affiliates like in Biloxi, Mississippi will have a lesser ability to pre-empt."
Both broadcasters don't like the idea of newspapers and television stations in the same area being under the same ownership. They say it was pushed as part of FCC Chairman Michael Powell's personal agenda.
"I understand that of all the public comments that were submitted to the Federal Communications commission, 99.9 percent were opposed to the relaxation, yet Chairman Powell chose to relax them," Long said.
The FCC is also getting criticism from Clear Channel, which owns hundreds of radio stations, including several here on the coast. Company officials told us "the FCC chose politics over the public interest and American consumers will be the ultimate victims."
Senator Trent Lott also had some harsh words for FCC. He says letting one company have control over the print and broadcast media in one city isn't fair to its citizens.