WASHINGTON - The Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is disputing Democratic assertions that a new rule loosening restrictions on media ownership is full of loopholes and will lead to a wave of mergers and fewer choices for consumers.
Democratic commissioner Michael Copps described the commission's decision approving the measure as "one that would make George Orwell proud," referring to the English author best known for his novels critiquing totalitarianism and for popularizing the phrase "Big Brother is watching you."
FCC chairman Kevin Martin said the commission action was a "relatively minor loosening" of a single rule.
The conflicting impressions say a lot about the divisive nature of the media ownership debate. Too much media in the hands of too few companies raises fears of an emerging corporate big brother and fewer news and information sources.
The commission vote, along strict party lines, will allow a single company to own a TV or radio station and a newspaper in the 20 largest metropolitan areas.
"I think this was actually a very moderate attempt to adjust our rules to reflect some of the changes that are occurring in the marketplace," Martin said.
However, the two Democrats on the commission say the rule will open the door to a new wave of media consolidation.
The chairman was also criticized for granting waivers to a number of existing cross-ownership arrangements.
Martin says the loopholes are actually exceptions that create a high hurdle for such combinations to be approved in markets that are not among the 20 largest in the nation.