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FCC Chairman's Localism Initiative Draws Sharp Response From Goodmon

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Federal Communications Commission

Chairman Michael K. Powell has announced a series of initiatives to enhance localism among radio and television broadcasters.

Among the initiatives is the formation of what Powell called a "Localism Task Force." He said the task force will play a critical role in gathering empirical data and grassroots information on broadcast localism and will advise the FCC on concrete steps that can be taken to promote localism.

Powell's announcement comes two weeks before the FCC's new ownership rules take effect. Back on June 2, Federal regulators relaxed decades-old rules restricting media ownership, permitting companies to buy more television stations and own a newspaper and broadcast outlet in the same city.

Powell was considered the driving force behind the decision to loosen ownership rules. He had faced growing criticism from diverse interests opposed to his move toward deregulation.

Local interest groups are calling Powell's latest action a weak attempt to pacify local broadcasters and other interest groups, while the FCC continues to plow ahead and put its deregulatory rulings into effect.

Powell's Wednesday announcement drew a sharp response from Jim Goodmon, owner of

Capitol Broadcasting Company,

who opposed Powell's June 2 decision to expand media ownership rules.

In a statement released to 17 national media outlets Wednesday, Goodmon called Powell's decision to form a task force "arrogant " and said the chairman was more interested in economics than localism.

"Chairman Powell announced his decision to conduct an in-depth study of localism in broadcasting, including hearings around the country," Goodmon said. "Good idea, but it comes 18 months too late. With the new media ownership rules set to take effect in two weeks, a study now will not remove public and Congressional concern about his new ownership rules.

"There is certain arrogance in Chairman Powell's presentation. He continually reminds us that he is an anti-trust lawyer, and this is an economic issue. His 'expert' agency has the facts and has ruled properly -- end of story. He often remarks that those who disagree with him are "too emotional" and need to calm down. Calm down?"

Goodmon disagreed with Powell's contention that the new ownership rules are "core" to the localism issue.

"The June 2 action and the UHF discount loopholes would permit a single media giant to own at least one television station in every market in every state except California," Goodmon said. "In 139 of those markets, the company could own two stations, and in four markets, the company could own three stations.

"That is 346 stations in 199 markets. And that does not include radio, newspapers and cable that the same media giant could own. Localism? Diversity? Competition?"

Powell said the rules adopted in June are "well-designed to prevent any media company from having excess power over competition or viewpoints.

But, Powell added, "during the proceeding and in the months that followed, we heard the voice of public concern about the media loud and clear.

"Localism is at the core of these concerns," Powell said, "and we are going to tackle it head on."

Responded Goodmon: "If Chairman Powell is interested in localism, he should issue a stay until a genuine effort is made to consider the total impact of all of the ownership rules and the relationship between ownership and localism.

"Do that, Mr. Powell," Goodmon said, "and then we can all calm down."

In Wednesday's announcement, Powell said the Localism Task Force will advise the FCC on steps it can take to strengthen localism in broadcasting and will make legislative recommendations to Congress toward that same end. The task force will be led by FCC Deputy General Counsel Michele Ellison and Deputy Chief of the Media Bureau, Robert Ratcliffe.

Powell said the task force will:

  • conduct studies to rigorously measure localism and how it may be affected by existing FCC rules,
  • organize a series of public hearings on localism around the country,
  • advise the Commission on recommendations to Congress this fall relating to the licensing of thousands of additional low-power FM radio stations,
  • make recommendations to the Commission within 12 months on how the Commission can promote localism in television and radio,
  • advise the commission on legislative recommendations to Congress that would strengthen localism.
  • "It is important to understand that ownership rules have always been, at best, imprecise tools for achieving policy goals like localism," Powell said. "That is why the FCC has historically sought more direct ways of promoting localism in broadcasting. These include things such as public interest obligations, license renewals and protecting the rights of local stations to make programming decisions for their communities.

    "I also commend the commitment of my colleagues to the advancement of localism," Powell said. "They have consistently shown a deep and unwavering commitment in this important policy area, and I look forward to working closely with them on this initiative. Given our shared commitment in this area, I am optimistic that we will reach consensus on how the FCC can promote localism by broadcasters."

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