The FCC, with a 3–2 vote, passed a rule today that would allow greater consolidation of local media ownership in the largest cities.
The vote came despite threats of funding cutoffs from Congress and protests from consumer advocacy groups.
Chairman Kevin Martin, who has the backing of the White House, says the “modest” change gives relief to failing newspapers and the print-broadcast combinations will give the public more news. The change partially lifts the 32-year-old ban that prevents one entity from both a daily newspaper and either a TV or an AM or FM radio station in one market, assuming certain criteria are met. The change mainly affects the top 20 Nielsen Designated Market Areas. In the nation’s other 190 media markets, a company could ask the FCC to allow the change, but the merger would have to pass certain tests.
Critics say those tests are vague and the hurdles are low. One of the tests is that, after the merger, the entity would produce more news.
Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps, who voted against the item, said job cuts would be the first thing to happen with these mergers. That job loss, he argued, leads to more, not less, consolidation of media in a market.
Proponents say it’s time to change the rule, that the cross-ownership ban was the only media ownership rule left untouched in the passage of the ’96 Telecom Act.
Republican Commissioner Deborah Tate said the decision process had been open and that while she would have preferred to be part of a unanimous decision, she didn’t agree that waiting would have led to a different outcome.