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FCC Preparing to Act on Media Ownership

Commission looking to lift ban on newspaper/radio and radio/TV combos

The FCC is preparing to act on some aspects of its media ownership rules at its public meeting later this month. For now, all rules, including the ones governing radio, remain in place.

That’s according to an agency official who adds the agency is preparing to seek comment on how to modify existing media ownership rules to reflect the realities of today’s marketplace. The FCC will seek comment on whether to eliminate restrictions on newspaper/radio combinations as well as eliminate the radio/television cross-ownership rule in favor of relying on local radio and television station limits in a market. Proponents have said it’s well beyond time to lift these restrictions given the plethora of media outlets while opponents say lifting bans will lead to more media ownership consolidation.

This is the first word of the new chairman’s intentions on media ownership, a holdover from the last chairman. The commission will roll in comments from its 2010 quadrennial media ownership rule review into the one for 2014, which the agency begins working on this month.

The official termed the current review “wide open,” with “essentially all questions on the table.”

For example, in the 2010 review, the commission asked how its waiver standards could be improved. An official said the agency’s threshold for a failed or failing station is something that may change this time around. Some broadcasters have suggested the current threshold is too hard to meet. “We might loosen that,” said the official.

Separately, the chairman is preparing to circulate among his colleagues an item to revise Joint Sales Agreement rules in place for television. The main change is JSAs would be attributable, as they already are for radio, and “count” towards local television limits.

Specifically, the chairman is looking to adopt a rule that states if the owner of one TV station in a market sells 15% or more of the advertising time for a competing station in the same market, then it has an ownership stake in that station which counts towards local TV limits. The commission believes the issue is especially acute for television stations in small and medium markets, according to the official, where the JSA means the “stronger” station has the ability to control the finances and programming of the “weaker” station.