This week the Federal Communications Commission narrowly approved a seismic shift in the way the government regulates broadcast media--a shift that's likely to unleash a wave of consolidation in an industry where independent thought is an endangered species.

The 3-2 vote, conducted along party lines, made it easier for a company to own both a newspaper and broadcast outlet in the same market, removed restrictions on owning more than one of the top four TV stations in a market, and eliminated rules against a single company owning local stations that reach more than 35 percent of U.S. households.

The mastermind behind these roguish revisions is FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, whose pro-consolidation stance has drawn fierce criticism from independent broadcasters--especially after the Center for Public Integrity revealed that Powell enjoyed 44 industry junkets, costing a total of $84,921, since he joined the commission in 1997. (That includes 11 trips to the mecca of regulatory activity, Las Vegas.)