The fact that this is the chairman’s pitch, rather than one coming from the entire five-member body, is unusual and drew reaction.
Indeed, Nickolaus Leggett, one of the original petitioners for low-power FM, asked for more time to file comments, saying in a filing that he shared with me, “I am somewhat at a loss on how to deal with an individual proposal.”
So where does all this leave radio? With the same tiered-local ownership caps crafted in a House-Senate compromise back in 1996.
(In some circumstances, a newspaper could buy a radio station in the same market if the market is one of the top 20 Nielsen DMAs. Other considerations that would be evaluated are 1) the level of concentration in the DMA; 2) a showing that the combined entity would increase the amount of local news in the market, 3) a pledge that both the newspaper and the station would maintain independent news judgment and 4) the financial condition of the newspaper, and if the paper is in “financial distress,” the owner’s commitment to invest in the newsroom.)
The chairman made it clear that the cross-ownership ban is the only media ownership rule he’s proposing to change.
Court decisions overturning previous attempts to change the ownership rules have left him with little leeway.
As a Republican chairman heading into an election year, he has little time to get any more accomplished. Unlike what some radio watchers believe, I never saw any evidence the chairman was a champion of easing of radio-ownership caps. He’s focusing on cross-ownership because he believes he can get it done.
Taking a pragmatic approach, the chairman’s going to be happy if he gets this passed, even with a 3-2 vote, to be able to say one of the media ownership rules was relaxed on his watch.
(So hasty was the chairman’s confab, Martin spoke to us by phone from an airport as he waited for a plane.
One reporter, whom I’ve known since we covered the Telecom Act together in 1995, decided to ask a question on a different topic; the chairman ended up trying to quell a spat between the reporter and one of the aides. It was rather funny hearing Martin try to get this reporter’s attention so he could hear the answer to his question and we could all move on. Such is life in Washington.)