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All Sides Weigh In on FCC Ownership Rules

Oct 24, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Broadcasters, unions, newspaper publishers and consumer groups urged the Federal Communications Commission in late filings Monday to take immediate actions on its media ownership rules, but disagreed on whether that action should be to ease, retain or toughen the rules.

Broadcasters and newspaper publishers for the most part are lobbying strongly to ease or end ownership rules. The big exception was The Walt Disney Co., which said flatly it “is not advocating and does not seek any relaxation of the commission’s broadcast ownership rules.”

“Given the increase and attractiveness of new media outlets, in Disney’s view the commission may soon find itself considering ways to incent, rather than restrict, ownership of over-the-air broadcast stations,” Disney said in its filing. While consumer groups took a similar view to that of Disney, if not pushing for stronger rules, Disney seemed to be alone among broadcasters.

Monday was the final day to submit filings to the FCC for its review of media ownership rules.

Fox Entertainment Group and Fox Television Stations, noting that 150 million Americans are Internet users, more than double the number from 2000, called current ownership rules “archaic and counterproductive” and suggested that the FCC “should jettison” all its rules, calling them “entirely ill-suited to the realities of the modern world of ubiquitous and diverse media voices.”

“Fox believes that it is beyond question that regulatory intervention is no longer necessary to ensure diversity and localism. … To the extent that the commission has any residual concern about competition in the markets for television advertising or program production, it should defer to antitrust authorities,” the Fox statement said. “Likewise … the plethora of viewpoints available today from as many diverse and antagonistic sources as there are people to posit views is wholly sufficient to meet the commission’s goals without need for ownership regulations.”

The Newspaper Association of America urged the FCC to narrowly limit its review and simply abandon the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules, which it called a relic of the past and “anarchistic, discriminatory and counterproductive.”

“Today consumers have virtually limitless choices in news and informational content on every imaginable subject,” the NAA said. It also urged the FCC to reject consumer groups’ push to weight the impact of media outlets in determining whether combinations should be allowed, saying audiences in all local markets “are abundantly well served by a broad range” of choices.

Tribune Co. also urged the FCC to overturn its cross-ownership rules, saying they are obsolete and have prevented the public from getting the highest-quality news and public affairs programming. Tribune cited the 48 percent decline in the ratings of its Los Angeles station KTLA-TV since Tribune acquired it in 2001 as proof that common ownership of TV stations and newspapers (Tribune Co. also owns the Los Angeles Times) doesn’t lead to concentration control issues (Tribune Co. also owns the Los Angeles Times). Tribune also contended that the growth of alternative news weeklies, Web sites and blogs as alternative sources of information as evidence the rules aren’t needed.

Several broadcasters with UHF stations urged the FCC to retain the UHF discount in determining whether media companies are approaching a cap on holding stations reaching 39 percent of the national audience. The FCC discounts UHF stations in figuring the reach, a discount that was questioned by judges as flawed during an appellate court review that forced the current re-examination.

Ion Networks contended Congress has barred the FCC from reconsidering the discount, but said even if that’s not true, UHF signals are still handicapped. It suggested the issues are “too complex” to be handled with other rules and urged the FCC to review the UHF discount separately if it decides a change is warranted.

Unions and consumer groups, meanwhile, urged more stringent rules.

The Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild of America, the Producers Guild of America and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists urged the FCC to adopt a requirement that 25 percent of network prime-time programming come from independent producers. It called the requirement “critical to the preservation of a viable independent producer marketplace that will deliver to the American public a diverse array of programming options.”

The Children’s Media Policy Coalition, which includes the National PTA, suggested limiting local broadcasters to a single license per market “to ensure sufficient original programming for children” and suggested that consolidation reduces the variety of programming sources for stations and the programs available for kids.

The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters and the Rainbow/Push Coalition urged the FCC to examine specifically the impact of rules changes on station ownership by minorities and to rethink its decision to stop gathering information on that impact when considering license transfers.