Nullify FCC decision to increase conglomerate media
The FCC has relaxed a ban on the same company owning a newspaper and broadcast station in any of the 20 largest U.S. markets.
DOMINATION of the media by huge conglomerates would be accelerated by a move taken this week by the Federal Communications Commission. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye and other senators have recognized the potential damage and are poised to overturn the FCC action. Congress needs to reject the commission's decision, which would allow more consolidation of local media ownership.
The Republican-controlled FCC, by a 3-2 party-line vote, acted to lift a 32-year-old ban on media companies owning both a daily newspaper and a broadcast station in any one of the nation's 20 largest media markets. The only caveat is that a television station in such dual ownership not be among the top four in the market.
In the country's 190 other media markets, including Honolulu, a company could be granted an exemption from the cross-ownership ban if it passes waiver standards that Democratic Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein told Inouye's committee "are as stiff as a wet noodle."
Loopholes in the waiver standards would "undercut the assertion that the proposal would prevent a newspaper from buying one of the top-four rated stations in the same market," Adelstein testified. "That alleged protection would disappear with the wave of a hand in the market below the top 20 if these waiver standards were invoked, so that a newspaper could buy any TV station in any city, no matter how large."
Gannett Co. Inc., owner of the Honolulu Advertiser, USA Today, 83 other local dailies and 23 television network affiliates, has demonstrated a desire to buy more TV stations but has been hampered by the 1975 rule. Gannett expressed opposition to the new rule, contending it "is far too limited."
The ban itself has been too lax. Even with it in place, the FCC granted the Tribune Co. a temporary exemption last month, removing an obstacle to a leveraged buyout by Chicago real estate magnate Sam Zell. Tribune owns a daily newspaper in four top-20 markets -- New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami/Fort Lauderdale -- and in Hartford, Conn.
The FCC granted a waiver for Gannett to continue ownership of the NBC affiliate in Phoenix after it purchased the Arizona Republic seven years ago. The Phoenix newspaper and TV station share a Web site, hardly an indication of media diversity.
In New York, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. owns two TV stations, the New York Post and the recently acquired Wall Street Journal. Like Gannett, Tribune and News Corp. said the lifting of the ban does not go far enough.
This week's vote to lift the ban came after 25 senators, including Inouye and Sen. Ted Stevens, ranking Republican on the Commerce Committee, sent FCC Chairman Kevin Martin a letter threatening to nullify such a rule. Congress should follow through on the threat and override President Bush's promised veto of any such nullification.