Almost anyone can buy a television or radio station — unless they also happen to own a newspaper in the same market.
Under rule changes proposed by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, that would change in the country’s top 20 media markets (if a television station in question is not among the top four in the market). Also, the market would have to have eight independently owned and operated media voices.
A rule adopted by the commission in 2003 would have allowed newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership in the top 170 markets, but a federal court remanded that rule back to the FCC.
“If we don’t act to improve the health of the newspaper industry, we will see newspapers wither and die,” Martin wrote in an op-ed piece in The New York Times this week.
The move is generating plenty of attention. Before the details were announced, Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) already said they would try to legislatively block any move toward greater media consolidation. Protesters spoke up at a Nov. 2 public hearing at the commission on the issue.
Democratic Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein have blasted what they’ve called a hurried schedule on hearings on localism designed to back up a pre-ordained outcome, and consumer groups have attacked the methodology of a stack of localism and diversity studies by the commission.
And Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Commerce Committee, told Martin he had “serious concerns” about what he calls an insufficient timeline, with comments due to the FCC Dec. 11.
“If the commission adheres to your stated deadline of Dec. 18, 2007, for adopting a final rule, commissioners will have just one week to evaluate comments on the proposal,” Dingell wrote.
The committee’s panel on telecommunications has scheduled a hearing on the proposed rules Dec. 6.
Some broadcasters and newspaper owners, meanwhile, have said that a partial relaxation on the cross-ownership ban wouldn’t go far enough, and the FCC should drop the ownership restriction entirely.
More than 100,000 people and groups have filed comments on the issue with the FCC.