FCC Hears Arguments for, Against Easing Ownership Rules

Dec 12, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission heard calls for easing media ownership curbs and arguments over newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership Monday night in the evening portion of a Nashville hearing on media consolidation.

It also heard pleas to stop cable companies from stripping digital multicasting signals and a charge that media companies are getting greedy in seeking rules changes.

After hearing country music singers and songwriters worried about the impact of radio consolidation Monday afternoon, last night’s hearing turned to TV issues.

“Consumers have more choices,” said Ellen Leifeld, publisher and president of Gannett-owned newspaper The Tennessean. “Cross-ownership robs the news media of options in confronting changes.”

Deborah McDermott, president of Young Broadcasting, which owns Nashville ABC affiliate WKRN-TV, said 40 percent of consumers now can access video from the Internet through high speed connections.

“Local TV stations face unprecedented competition,” she said. “The handwriting is on the wall if we cannot sustain reasonable levels of profitability. I would urge the commission to consider a major relaxation of local ownership rules.”

Broadcasters also complained that their efforts to provide additional local multicasting channels were being stymied by cable companies’ refusal to carry the signals.

Consumer groups and some professors disputed any need for easing ownership rules.

“Cross-ownership of major media properties is a bad idea,” said Alex Jones, a Pulitizer Prize-winning reporter who now is director of the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University. “The news of politics, public affairs, comes from newspapers and local television. It is talk that is in ready abundance [on the Web], not the news.”

He warned that further combinations would give individual owners too much power.

Wendell Rawls, another Pulitzer winner and acting director of the Center for Public Integrity, said cross-ownership “is all about pursuit of greater and great profits. It’s greed, pure and simple.”

Mr. Rawls said media owners, despite pleas of financial hardship, are already earning returns double those of pharmaceutical companies.