FCC Chairman To Relax Media Ownership Rules

Media conglomerates are preparing to feast on a banquet of local media outlets thanks to a resurrected proposal from FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. The Chairman wants to relax decades-old rules that bar media companies from owning both a newspaper and TV or radio station in the same local market. A similar proposal was presciently struck down three years ago by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Currently, a company can own two television stations in the larger markets only if at least one is not among the four largest stations and if there are at least eight local stations. The rules also limit the number of radio stations that a company can own to no more than eight in each of the largest markets.

The deregulatory proposal is likely to put the agency once again at the center of a debate between the media companies, which view the restrictions as anachronistic, and civil rights, labor, religious and other groups that maintain the government has let media conglomerates grow too large.”

“Mr. Martin faces obstacles within the agency to overhauling the rules. One Democrat on the commission, Michael J. Copps, is adamantly opposed to loosening the rules. The other, Jonathan S. Adelstein, has said that the agency first needs to address other media issues, including encouraging improved coverage of local events and greater ownership of stations by companies controlled by women and minorities.

Advisers to Mr. Martin said he hoped to gain the support of at least one of the Democrats, probably Mr. Adelstein, but Mr. Adelstein said in an interview on Wednesday that Mr. Martin’s proposed timetable was “awfully aggressive.”

Two powerful Senators, Commerce Committee member Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Republican Whip Trent Lott (R-MS), have urged the Chairman to back away from a planned December 18 vote. The Chairman will have to answer to Dorgan if he obstinately continues on his flawed course.

“If in fact the chairman has indicated that he intends to do media ownership by December of this year, there is going to be a firestorm of protest, and I’m going to be carrying the wood.”

FCC urged to hold up on media owner rules [Bloomberg]
(AP Photo/Reed Saxon)