FCC Chair Says He’s Ready to Eliminate Cross-Ownership Ban

I missed this one last Friday, but FCC Chair Kevin Martin gave his first press conference as chair and promised to repeal the cross-ownership ban which prevents a company from owning both a newspaper and a television station in the same market.

He will have a fighting chance at this when the Senate confirms new Republican commissioner Robert McDowell. Although McDowell’s views on this particular issue aren’t known, it’s probably not one he’ll want to break with party ranks on.

It’s large companies like Tribune, which own newspapers and TV stations in different markets, that want to see the cross-ownership ban killed, and they’re putting appropriate pressure on Congress and the FCC.

However, Martin’s FCC will have to do better research than Michael Powell’s FCC did for the first go-around at eliminating the cross-ownership rule. That research and its conclusions were laughably bad, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals pointed that out to the FCC in no uncertain terms.

Unfortunately, the Court also hinted that the cross-ownership ban might be eliminated if the Commission did a better job at justifying it.

This particular issue is such a big deal to the media industry because consolidation has cooled off somewhat as the voracious giants have pretty much devoured everything they can. A company like Tribune can only get bigger by buying properties owned by other giants, and those aren’t nearly as cheap as stations and papers owned by independent or small regional owners.

The likes of Tribune are especially licking their lips over the opportunity to buy a pure newspaper company, which are otherwise pretty ripe for the picking these days.

The threat of eliminating the cross-ownership ban is most significant for small and mid-size markets that already have a dwindling number of news outlets. Often, the only diversity in local news results from the local newspaper being owned by a different company than a local TV station.

If the two are allowed to combine, say goodbye to any hope that the local paper might report on malfeasance at the TV station, for instance. Then say hello to predatory ad practices that will put additional revenue pressure on any independently-owned commercial media that might be left in a small market, forcing these small businesses to sell out or combine in order to stay alive.

Perhaps we might hear more from our Democratic FCC commissioners on this one, and maybe there will be public hearings so that it’s clear the Commission will have to ignore the public opinion on the matter.







One response to “FCC Chair Says He’s Ready to Eliminate Cross-Ownership Ban”

  1. George Avatar

    It’s interesting to go back to the infamous June 2 rules. The crossownership ban was not completely lifted. Here is what they said:

    1)In large markets (9 or more TV stations), there is no ban on owning newspaper and TV or radio in the same city.

    2)Mid-sized markets (4 to 8 TV stations), one company can own a newspaper, a TV station, and half the radio stations it’s entitled to own. Or one newspaper and all of the stations it’s entitled to own. Or two TV stations, but no newspaper and some radio.

    3) The ban stays in place in small markets (less than 4 TV stations)

    So if Martin is talking about repealing the ban, it’s going further than the June 2 rules.

    During the Congressional hearings in 2003, it was interesting to hear Senators in districts where companies had waivers on the ban, such as Chicago, where the Tribune owns WGN-AM and WGN-TV. Or New York, where News Corp. owns the Post, WNYW TV and WWOR TV. Other cities with waivers include Atlanta and Seattle. Democracy is safe in those towns.

    In fact, in places like Chicago, there has been a huge rise in neighborhood newspapers to compete with the Trib and Sun-Times.

    Concentration tends to lead to the creation of new outlets, just as concentration of radio ownership was followed by satellite, internet, and podcasting.

    “say goodbye to any hope that the local paper might report on malfeasance at the TV station”

    By the same token, the competing TV station would gloat to high heaven about any mis-deeds at another station. Just as Fox gloated about CBS during Rather-gate. And let’s not forget all the grass-roots media watch-dogs, who would howl about the death of democracy.

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