Deregulation opponents saw their concerns swept aside today (Jun2) as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to relax mediaownership rules.

In a three-to-two ruling the FCC allowed the US networks to extendtheir ownership of television stations anywhere in the United States to reach amaximum 45% of the national audience.

Previous rules had set a limit of 35%, although there has been controversysurrounding lax enforcement.

The new ruling also enables local broadcasters to own two stationsin most markets, and paves the way for cross ownership of newspapers,television and radio stations in certain markets.

However the four top television stations - ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -are still blocked from merging with one another.

FCC chairman Michael Powell said new rules were necessary toaccommodate the changing media landscape, where an increasing level ofentertainment and news is becoming available via the internet and cable.

Moving to assuage fears opponents' fears of a merger rush, Powellwas quoted on Reuters as saying, "I happen to predict that, while you willsee mergers in the market, this alarmist rush to consolidation is not going topan out in the way they suggest."

The vote was split along party lines as the three-strongRepublican contingent endorsed the changes.

The two dissenting Democrats argued the new rules would keep mediaownership in the hands of a dwindling power base and reduce diversity of opinionand news reporting standards.

"I see centralisation, not localism. I see uniformity, notdiversity. I see monopoly and oligopoly, not competition," CommissionerMichael Copps said.

The revised rules will now entitle a company to own two televisionstations in those markets where there are at least five stations, provided oneis not among the top four.

A company can own three stations in markets such as Los Angeleswhere there are 18 stations.

In markets withnine television stations, cross ownership means a company can own a dailynewspaper, a television station and a number of radio stations.