Ownership Fight Heats Up

Apr 27, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The odds may be long against Congress overturning new Federal Communications Commission rules that make it easier for newspapers and TV stations in a market to buy each other, but the broadcasting and newspaper industries are concerned enough to attempt to forestall such action.
In the face of a Senate Commerce Committee voice vote last week approving a “resolution of disapproval” and an upcoming vote on the matter by the full Senate, proponents of the new rules are planning to fight, even though administration officials have said they would recommend President Bush veto any congressional resolution.
“We take it very seriously,” said Paul Boyle, senior VP of public policy for the Newspaper Association of America.
A broadcasting industry source who didn’t want to be identified said that although the congressional action is unlikely to be successful, “you never like it to be hanging on the swipe of a pen.” The source said the issue is “very emotional.”
The rule change proposed by FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin lets newspapers and broadcasters in the same market buy each other.
The old rule prevented cross-ownership in a market. The new rule generally allows for combinations in the top 20 markets, but generally doesn’t permit them in smaller markets. However, it gives media companies in the smaller markets a loophole—the ability to seek waivers.
Consumer groups contend the potential of the FCC to grant waivers would make the net effect of the rules change far more dramatic than it appears.
“The consolidation of TV, radio and newspaper ownership that has occurred already limits the scope of the marketplace of ideas and hinders vigorous public debate, thereby posing a great threat to the First Amendment rights of all Americans,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office.
Senators have been concerned about ownership concentration and have criticized Mr. Martin for acting in haste, ignoring Capitol Hill’s warnings that the agency hadn’t adequately examined the potential impact the change could have on local programming, minority ownership of broadcast stations or competition.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who sponsored the resolution of disapproval, said the FCC action “allows much greater concentration” of media ownership. He said the agency ignored Congress and rebuked Mr. Martin.
Mr. Martin denied that the FCC rejected Congress.
“I think the commission is always sensitive to Congress in the actions it ends up taking,” Mr. Martin said. Instead, he suggested the FCC was dealing with another congressional mandate to re-examine media-ownership rules and report back. “The commission was responding to what the law required us to do,” he said.
Sen. Dorgan said he hopes President Bush changes his mind about vetoing the legislation.
“The president’s popularity rating is below 30%,” he said. “He promises to veto almost everything these days. My hope is that at some point he would decide on an issue like this that he would want to stand with the American people … that he would think better of what the FCC has done.”

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