December 18, 2007

The FCC has passed a plan proposed by chairman Kevin Martin to reverse the 32-year ban on cross-ownership of newspapers and TV stations in the top 20 markets. The FCC also granted permanent waivers to some companies owning newspapers and TV stations outside the top 20 markets, like Gannett and Media General, which otherwise might have been forced to sell properties to conform to the new ruling.

 

Here’s a Romenesko item about the day’s events:

 

FCC votes 3-2 to let broadcasters also own a newspaper 
Associated Press | Content Bridges
FCC chairman Kevin Martin described the media ownership proceeding as “the most contentious and divisive issue” to come before him. “That proved true as the two Democrats in the commission blasted the proposal in unusually strong language for the normally sedate agency,” reports the AP. | Ken Doctor: “The cross-ownership relaxation likely will do little in support of promoting more journalism, more reporting or more diversity in the voices heard or subjects covered.”

 

Here are the proposed cross-ownership changes, from the FCC’s documentation:


Chairman Martin’s proposal would permit cross ownership only in the largest markets where there exists competition and numerous voices. The revised rule would balance the need to support the availability and sustainability of local news while not significantly increasing local concentration or harming diversity. Under the new approach, the Commission would presume a proposed newspaper/broadcast transaction is in the public interest if it meets the following test:


(1) the market at issue is one of the 20 largest Nielsen Designated Market Areas (“DMAs”);
(2) the transaction involves the combination of a major daily newspaper and one television or radio station;
(3) if the transaction involves a television station, at least 8 independently owned and
operating major media voices (defined to include major newspapers and full-power
commercial TV stations) would remain in the DMA following the transaction; and
(4) if the transaction involves a television station, that station is not among the top four ranked stations in the DMA.

All other proposed newspaper/broadcast transactions would continue to be presumed not in the public interest.

 

…the Commission would consider the following factors in evaluating whether a particular transaction was in the public interest:


(1) the level of concentration in the DMA;
(2) a showing that the combined entity will increase the amount of local news in the market;
(3) a commitment that both the newspaper and the broadcast outlet will continue to exercise its own independent news judgment; and
(4) the financial condition of the newspaper, and if the newspaper is in financial distress, the owner’s commitment to invest significantly in newsroom operations.


 

As John Nichols wrote for The Nation today, “It is fair to say that today is the beginning point, not the end, of the fight for media diversity and a democratic discourse.” That’s because lawmakers have vowed to fight the ruling while the White House supports it.

 

No one seems entirely satisfied with the outcome. Reports Todd Shields for Bloomberg: “Publishers Tribune Co. and News Corp. had said the proposal didn’t go far enough, while consumer groups said it threatened diversity in local media.”

 

Poynter has been covering the FCC and cross-ownership for years. Here’s the most recent article:

 

Big Media: Good, Bad or Both?
By Pat Walters
May 1, 2007
In Tampa Monday night, the FCC heard from advocates of media consolidation, opponents and a number of people who don’t fit either category.

 

Cross-ownership has been addressed in Al’s Morning Meeting, E-Media Tidbits, Romenesko and across Poynter Online.

 

In 2003, the FCC passed a plan to change the cross-ownership rules. Here’s the package of stories Poynter published then:

 

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Julie Moos (jmoos@poynter.org) has been Director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications since 2009. Previously, she was Editor of Poynter Online (2007-2009) and Poynter Publications…
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