RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Critics and supporters of rules that limit ownership of newspapers and radio and television stations spoke out Thursday to federal regulators considering a broad overhaul of the restrictions.
``This is a rule-making that will be driven by evidence and not just intuition,'' Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell said. He said that if the commission can't justify a media ownership restriction, ``the rule will go away.''
The FCC is studying whether decades-old media ownership restrictions are suitable for a marketplace that has been transformed by satellite broadcasts, cable television and the Internet.
The agency's five commissioners heard public and industry comments at a hearing as one of the final steps in its review, which will probably be completed in May.
It is widely believed that Powell and two other Republicans on the commission want to loosen regulations.
Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat, said the decisions the FCC will make could alter the landscape of news and entertainment programming.
``I am concerned because I think we don't yet know the potential implications of our actions,'' Copps said.
David Croteau, a sociology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, echoed Copps' concerns.
``We have enough evidence now to serve as a warning,'' he said in prepared remarks. ``Less regulation will be a windfall for a few giant media corporations. It is likely to be a huge mistake for the rest of us.''
But John Sturm, president of the Newspaper Association of America, said the rule that prevents a company from owning a broadcast station and a newspaper in the same market is outdated and should be repealed.
``The media world is totally different now as compared to when this ban went into effect in 1975,'' he said in prepared remarks. He said ``cross-ownership'' of a newspaper and a broadcast station can enhance the quality and quantity of news and local information.
Copps has sought more public hearings on the media ownership review and plans to hold his own next month in Seattle and Durham, N.C.
``Our records needs much more breadth than the capital will provide,'' Copps said.
Powell has said the Richmond hearing would be enough because the agency already had received thousands of public comments, most of them sent by e-mail.
A 1996 telecommunications law required the FCC to periodically review ownership rules in light of industry changes.
Media companies, including the owners of the four major television networks, have asked the FCC to abolish the ownership rules, saying the regulations restrict their ability to grow and stay competitive.
Groups representing consumers, broadcasters, entertainers and other media workers argue that the restrictions should remain to prevent a handful of giant companies from controlling what people watch, hear and read.
Viacom Inc., owner of CBS, MTV and UPN, was one of several companies that questioned a rule prohibiting any company from controlling television stations that, together, can reach more than 35 percent of U.S. households. An appeals court said last year that the rule was too sweeping and sent the regulation back to the FCC.
Last year, courts also rejected restrictions on companies that want to own two television stations in the same market.
Other rules under review concern the number of television and radio stations a company may own in one market; a ban on mergers between the major TV networks _ NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox; limits on radio station ownership; and a restriction preventing a company from owning a broadcast station and a newspaper in the same market.