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What Impact Will the New FCC Ruling Have?

Aired June 2, 2003 - 19:27   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR: If you ever watched TV when I wasn't on you probably complained about the lack of good things to watch. Which is amazing, given that you need a math degree just to calculate the number of channels out there.
It's this debate over what should be on TV and the variety that has some in Congress talking about undoing an FCC vote today.

The Federal Communications Commission voted to raise existing limits on how many TV stations and other media outlets a single company can own. And the vote was split on party lines, but commissioner Michael Powell said most viewers won't even notice a change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL POWELL, FCC COMMISSIONER: Much of the consumers just never really fully appreciated the depth of what we were doing. That could be a failing on our part.

But I do think that they're going to be confident that as I watch TV in the next coming days months and weeks, they're not going see something radically different than they have seen for decades. And indeed in our judgment, in some local markets, you'll see some improvement in what you see in television.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: We shall see. Joining us to explain what is going on is CNNfn correspondent Joy Willis. Thanks for being with us.

JOY WILLIS, CNNFN CORRESPONDENT: Great to be here.

COOPER: Walk us through today's decision. What do we need to know?

WILLIS: Well, there were three big changes that we saw today. First of all, companies can own television stations that control 45 percent of American television viewership. That's up from 35 previously.

Also, in all but the smallest markets, companies can own both broadcast stations and newspapers.

And finally, in large markets they can only multiple TV and radio stations. So you see a concentration.

Now, an interesting thing about today's vote, you said, that it came down on party lines 3-2, Republicans leading. But when you get away from the FCC, suddenly Republicans -- party lines don't matter so much anymore. There's some interesting bedfellows here.

The National Organization of Women is opposing this. And so is the National Rifle Association, two groups you wouldn't expect to be on the same side of any issue.

COOPER: Yes. You know, you heard Michael Powell saying most people won't even notice the changes on the dial or the radio. What will consumers notice, if anything?

WILLIS: Huge debate over that. If consumers will notice changes. And critics are saying, yes, they will.

The differences will be in local markets, where there are so many fewer voices already. And the thinking that even if you have multiple television stations, radio stations, that they're owned by the same people, there will be fewer reporters doing the reporting.

Look at Sinclair broadcasting currently. They own 62 TV stations across the country. But they use the same team of national reporters and anchors to do reporting and they pipe that into all their local newscasts.

COOPER: Are we suddenly going see a rash of media mergers now?

WILLIS: Well, that's possible. That's what we saw in the late '90s, right? A rash of media mergers. We'll probably see more. I think these rules will make that inevitable. The question is how fast does it happen?

Given the economy and the money at hand for these companies, they may wait a year or two years to get that started.

COOPER: Congress is already talking about reviewing these changes. Is this decision likely to stand, do you think?

WILLIS: Well, I think it's going to be hotly debated, hotly contested in the courts. Senator John Edwards saying, you know, he was going to sponsor some legislation to turn this thing around. It ain't over yet.

COOPER: It certainly is not. All right, Joy Willis, appreciate your joining us. Thanks.

WILLIS: Thank you.

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