Judges block America's loosening of media rules

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The Independent US

The Bush administration's plans to loosen restrictions on media ownership were halted this week by a court order temporarilyblocking their implementation. Congressional moves were also under way to overturn a key reform on television ownership rights.

The Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines in June to lift the ban on ownership of television stations and newspapers in the same market. It also proposed extending the limit of national audience share reached by any single television company from 35 per cent to 45 per cent.

Opponents argue that the rules would further restrict diversity in news media and give free rein to moguls such as Rupert Murdoch to dominate local markets.

The new rules were a pet project of the FCC's chairman, Michael Powell, son of the Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Despite a deluge of public comments opposing the new rules, Mr Powell said they would increase diversity by promoting greater competition.

But in July, the Republican-controlled House of Representativesvoted to bring the limit on TV market ownership back to 35 per cent. A Senate Appropriations Committee was expected to do the sameyesterday.

And on Wednesday, a federal appeals court in Philadelphia granted a stay, preventing the new rules from being implemented this week as planned.

It had been requested by the Media Access Project. "This ... gives us the opportunity to convince Congress and, if necessary, the courts, that the FCC's decision is bad for democracy, and bad for broadcast localism," the group said in a statement.