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Cross-ownership may get blessing

Sep 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission voted 4-0 last week to launch a rulemaking that could cause the elimination of the rule that currently bars daily newspapers from buying broadcast stations in their markets.
The so-called newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule, adopted in 1975, was originally intended to promote media diversity and competition.
But the FCC is now asking whether the proliferation of cable TV and other new media outlets justify loosening the regulation or axing it altogether.
The FCC also said it was particularly interested in what impact the 53 existing newspaper-broadcast combinations have had on their markets.
Most of those received grandfather protection when the cross-ownership prohibition was originally adopted. And at least according to the FCC, studying the existing cross-ownerships would provide valuable evidence as to what might happen if the rule were relaxed or eliminated.
That’s a view that was heartily seconded by Tribune Broadcasting, which has a permanent waiver allowing it to own the Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV in Chicago.
“Come on and take a look at us,” said Shaun Sheehan, Tribune vice president, Washington. “We think we’re pretty good public servants.”
Gene Kimmelman, co-director of the Washington office of the watchdog Consumers Union, however, said if the rule were eliminated, companies with cross-owned properties would have less incentive to toe the line because they would not be as exposed to re-regulation.
Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy, also challenged what he saw as an agency plan to base a decision on a record generated mostly by the industry.
“[FCC Chairman Michael] Powell has created a flawed design to address these issues which will ultimately support his own view of deregulation.”
Mr. Powell, meanwhile, said he believes the FCC proposal, which also asks whether the rule is necessary to protect diversity, is “fair, wide-ranging and neutral.”
The FCC said the public would have 60 days to comment after the proposal is officially published in the Federal Register.