FCC to proceed on proposal to loosen media-ownership rules

December 22, 2011

The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday that it will move ahead with a proposal to loosen the rules on media ownership.

The agency voted to continue with a new proposal to lift a ban on allowing companies to own a major TV station and a major newspaper in the country’s top 20 markets. A rule dating to the 1970s forbids a company from owning a major TV station and a major newspaper in the largest markets — an effort to provide media diversity.

In a notice of proposed rulemaking, the agency said it proposes “to eliminate the radio/television crossownership rule in favor of reliance on the local radio rule and local television rule. We believe that the local radio and television ownership rules adequately protect our localism and diversity goals and seek comment on this proposal.”

The commission is required to review its rules on media ownership every four years. In 2007, the FCC came forward with a similar proposal to relax the rules. Kevin J. Martin, then FCC’s chairman, said changes in the media landscape had made it difficult for news organizations to provide local news amid budget cuts. But that proposal was met with opposition from public interest groups and was ultimately thrown out by a federal appeals court after a judge ruled that the FCC did not have a long enough period for public comment.

Outgoing FCC commissioner Michael J. Copps said on Thursday that he was “deeply distressed” to discover that the measure was being considered again.

“Worse, the conditions that the then-majority attached to the 2008 newspaper-broadcast rule were so ridden with loopholes that an 18-wheeler could be driven through them — yet here they are, teed up for our consideration yet again! I was strongly opposed to the four factors that Chairman Martin proposed in the 2007-2008 proceeding, and I am opposed to considering them again in this proceeding,” Copps said in a statement.

Craig Aaron of the Free Press media watchdog group said the FCC is repeating its past mistakes.

“The FCC must be having a Yogi Berra moment, because it’s deja vu all over again on the failed policies of the previous administration,” Aaron said. “Those policies were resoundingly rejected by the public, Congress and the courts. The FCC should be working to remedy the mistakes of past administrations — not repeating them.”

Both Copps and Aaron said they approved of the commission’s decision to look closely at shared services agreements, in which media organizations pool reporting and resources to cut costs, but have raised concerns about whether organizations use these agreements to circumvent media ownership restrictions.

Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn also expressed her concerns, saying that the proposal does not go far enough to address the issue of ownership diversity, and that the commission needs firm data to establish who truly owns American media.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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