New York Mayor Ed Koch, in his Jan. 6 op-ed piece {"A Sneak Attack on the First Amendment"} attacks the most important FCC rule promoting the First Amendment. That 1975 rule, strongly espoused by two FCC chairmen (Dean Burch and Richard Wiley) bars common ownership of a newspaper and TV station in the same community on the grounds that "if our democratic society is to function, nothing is more important than insuring that there there is a free flow of information from as many divergent sources as possible."

Newspapers attacked the rule as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the rule in a 1978 case, holding that the public interest standard "necessarily invites reference to First Amendment principles . . . and, in particular, to the First Amendment goal of achieving 'the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources.' " And Congress, in legislation in 1982 and 1984 dealing with the new television of abundance, reaffirmed the importance of this diversification principle in the broadcast field.

Mayor Koch would gut the rule. He argues that in light of all the media in New York City, allowing newspaper-TV cross ownership, including Rupert Murdoch's ownership of both the New York Post and VHF station WNYW-TV, would not constitute "a monopoly of the media."

But the rule's purpose is not just to prevent monopoly. People rely largely on TV and newspapers for information, including on local issues. The First Amendment is greatly served by having these two powerful media in separate hands in all communities. If the rule were applied only to monopoly situations with one TV station and one newspaper (none grandfathered), it would have no application at all. Mayor Koch is not talking about waiver of the rule but rather its destruction.

Edwin M. Yoder Jr. {op-ed, Jan. 11} blames the FCC rule for the demise of The Washington Star because Joseph Allbritton was not allowed "to divert revenues from The Star's money-minting Washington TV station {on Channel 7}." The FCC rule worked well. Allbritton sold The Star to a well-qualified publisher, Time, Inc., with deep pockets. There are no efficiencies claimed in running a TV station and a newspaper in the same town. The issue is simply one of subsidizing the losing newspaper operation. That subsidy can come from any enterprise -- from, say, Time's profitable cable, TV or other publishing operations. Or, Allbritton could have swapped the Channel 7 station here for a similar VHF operation in a major market (as The Post did with Channel 9), and gone on subsidizing The Star. The Star regrettably died because neither Time nor Allbritton is running a charitable enterprise, and the losses were too great to sustain.

In the case of the New York Post, Mayor Koch says that Murdoch deserves a waiver. But Murdoch owned the New York Post (and was losing money on it) when he bought the New York VHF station. He asked for only a limited waiver, pledging to sell the paper within two years. He has never filed for a permanent waiver, so no one, Mayor Koch included, can now judge the merits of such a nonexistent filing. Certainly it's not enough simply to assert that the paper is continuing to lose money. Indeed, I know of no permanent waiver granted to such a VHF station. As to Murdoch's Boston station, where Mayor Koch also advocates a waiver, the newspaper is profitable. This shows again that the mayor is simply willing to gut the rule.

As for the way Congress handled this issue: No one can defend leaving everything to the last minute in a mammoth continuing resolution. It's obviously better for Congress to let the agency first conduct its rule-making or consider waivers, including extensions, which turn on the particular facts.

But it's important to recognize why Congress is proceeding in this blunt fashion. This FCC has ignored the public interest standard in license renewal, permitted and encouraged trafficking in broadcast licenses, allowed overcommercialization of childrens' TV programs, put in question policies promoting minority ownership of broadcast facilities and undermined the fairness doctrine without regard to congressional desires.

The FCC in 1987 proposed to drop local cross-ownership policies that it had in 1984 acknowledged as of the greatest importance for diversification. In these circumstances, Sen. Hollings acted in the continuing resolution process to prevent further erosion of the public interest in this and two other fields (minority ownership and public television). This kind of legislative process is certainly regrettable, but by far the larger matter of regret is an FCC acting with so little regard for the public interest.

The writer was assistant secretary of commerce for communications in the Carter administration.