The Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Dec. 18 decision to "relax" media ownership rules opens the door to a new wave of consolidation that will further erode the quality of U.S. news media.

According to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, the new rules will help the ailing newspaper industry compete with Internet news services for readership and advertising dollars by lifting a 30-year ban on newspaper-broadcast cross ownership. Martin contends that his "modest" proposal is limited to the nation's 20 largest media markets.

But as consumer advocacy and public interest groups, including Free Press and the Benton Foundation, have demonstrated, the ruling contains dozens of waivers and is riddled with loopholes that will have implications for media markets across the country.

The FCC's largess comes at an enormous price to the public interest. Media concentration shuts out independent voices, undermines local news operations and eviscerates investigative journalism in local communities. Rather than foster competition and media diversity, the FCC's ruling simply allows big media to get even bigger.

The FCC's ruling is nothing more than corporate welfare for an industry that continues to generate enormous profits for owners and shareholders. In lifting the cross-ownership ban, the FCC has, once again, placed corporate interests above the public interest.

Now its up to the Congress, the courts and, most important, the American people to revoke the FCC's ruling -- and to insist that the regulatory agency recommit itself to protecting "the public interest, convenience and necessity."

Kevin Howley is an Associate Professor of Media Studies at DePauw University. He can be reached at .