FCC Chair Proposes Loosening 'Cross-Ownership Rule'

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 13, 2007; 1:48 p.m. ET

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin today formally proposed loosening a 32-year-old media ownership rule that prohibits one company from owning a newspaper and television or radio station in the same city.

The so-called "cross-ownership rule" was designed to prevent an over-concentration of local media under one owner in a city. But Martin, who has discussed the issue publicly and in a conference call with reporters yesterday morning, said the rule should be relaxed because consumers now have many more ways to get news and information than they did three decades ago, when newspapers, television and radio were unrivaled sources of local information.

Under Martin's proposal, which must be voted on by the five-member commission, cross-ownership would be allowed in the following circumstances:

< The media would have to be in one of the 20 largest U.S. media markets. New York is No. 1; Sacramento is No. 2o. The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area ranks No. 9.

< A company that owned a newspaper would be allowed to own either a television station or radio station in that market, not both.

< If a newspaper wants to buy a television station, there must be at least eight other independently owned newspapers or television stations in the city after the merger.

< A newspaper cannot buy one of the top four rated television stations in a city.

The FCC likely will vote on the proposal next month.

Martin's proposal is a pared-back version of one offered by the FCC four years ago, which would have lifted the cross-ownership ban in all but the nation's smallest media markets. That rule was remanded to the FCC by a federal court, which did not disagree with lifting the ban but said that the commission did not adequately justify its reasoning for lifting it.

The current proposal by Martin seeks to address the court's concern and comply with a congressional directive that the FCC periodically examine and justify its media ownership rules. If the agency can no longer justify its rules, it must change them.

Martin believes the proposed rule could grant some economic relief to the struggling newspaper industry, though it was criticized as "yet another massive giveaway to big media," by Free Press, a nonprofit group that generally opposes media consolidation.

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