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Cross-ownership rule apparently in limbo

Apr 1, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Even before Michael Powell officially assumed the Federal Communications Commission’s chairmanship in January of last year, industry lobbyists were confidently predicting that his appointment meant imminent doom for the agency’s newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership prohibition.
But more than a year later, the rule, which bars owners of daily newspapers from buying broadcast stations in their markets, is still on the books. Now the same lobbyists are concerned that the regulation has slipped off Mr. Powell’s radar screen.
“What we have so far is a leader [Mr. Powell] who gives erudite speeches-and no decisions,” said one industry source.
The leading theory among lobbyists is that Mr. Powell doesn’t want to slate a vote on the issue until at least after the elections this fall, hoping that Republicans will take back control of the Senate.
With the Democrats currently calling the shots, Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Sen. Hollings is a longtime supporter of the who has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to make life difficult for agency chairmen who mess with regulations he favors.
David Fiske, an FCC spokesman, dismissed the election-timing scenario as “absurd.”
“It’s being actively worked on,” Mr. Fiske said. But he added that he couldn’t predict whether the issue would be ready for a vote before the elections.
At a news conference last week, FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin, one of Mr. Powell’s GOP colleagues, said he didn’t know whether the issue would be resolved this year.
“I haven’t come to a conclusion on what the agency should do on that,” Mr. Martin said.
Andrew Schwartzman, president of the activist Media Access Project, said part of the problem for the agency is that it will be difficult to write a decision justifying elimination of the rule.
“The industry is so imbued with its own propaganda, they think [eliminating the rule] is a slam-dunk,” Mr. Schwartzman said. “It’s not a slam-dunk.”