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Pai Calls Paper-Radio Cross-Ownership Ban an “Anachronism”

GOP commissioner tells Pennsylvania broadcasters it’s beyond time to get rid of it

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai says he’s “a realist” when it comes to media ownership rules. However, the GOP commissioner believes it’s time to eliminate the ban that prevents one company from owning both a newspaper and a radio station in the same market.

“The FCC’s media ownership order, passed on a party-line vote in March, kicked the can of reform down the road yet again,” Pai told attendees of the Pennsylvania Broadcasters Association convention in Hershey yesterday.

“Unless the courts intervene, I see no prospect that the FCC will bring all of its media ownership rules into the 21st century in the next couple of years,” he said, referring to Chairman Tom Wheeler’s decision to roll the 2010 media ownership review into the one for 2014. Action is expected on that sometime in 2016, Wheeler has indicated.

Both GOP Commissioners Pai and Michael O’Rielly expressed displeasure at that decision at the recent NAB Show. Fellow Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, defended the chairman’s decision to wait, noting that much of the media ownership data the FCC has is old and it makes sense to get updated information before making decisions on how to update those rules.

Saying he sees “a glimmer of hope,” Pai noted the commission signaled an openness to getting rid of the ban, which he characterizes as “an anachronism.”

Pennsylvania was a perfect setting for the discussion, Pai noted, because the commonwealth is home to the nation’s oldest newspaper-radio combo — The Scranton Times and WRAY(AM). The two joined their efforts in 1922 and now the paper is the Scranton Times-Tribune and WRAY is now WELJ(AM) and WELJ(FM.)

“Under our cross-ownership rule, this combination couldn’t be created today. But because the FCC grandfathered arrangements like this when it prohibited newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership in 1975, the combination still exists,” said Pai.

The commission “has no evidence” the ban is justified anymore, according to Pai, who asked rhetorically, “In 2014, does anyone seriously believe that a newspaper-radio combination can dominate the media marketplace?”