FCC set to relax media ownership rules

It’s looking more likely that the FCC will get media ownership rules reverted to those it agreed to in 2007 but were struck down last year by a federal appeals court, which said that the commission didn’t provide adequate public notice that it intended to change the rules.

In an e-mail, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski asked for a vote to "streamline and modernize media ownership rules, including eliminating outdated prohibitions on newspaper-radio and TV-radio cross-ownership.”

The commission is set to vote at its Nov. 30 meeting on relaxing media-ownership rules and ratifying Tribune Co.’s control of television stations and newspapers in cities including New York and Chicago, a final step the company said it needs to emerge from bankruptcy.

The latest rules package is the FCC’s third effort in the past 10 years to rewrite media ownership rules, as required by Congress, as well as a court order from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that tossed out the FCC’s last revision of the rules. A revision adopted in 2003 was blocked by a U.S. court that said the FCC didn’t justify its method for determining which markets could be eligible for cross-ownership.

Last December, the FCC issued a ruling-making proposal that would end radio and television cross-ownership rules and relax ownership rules for newspapers and television stations. But it proposed to keep radio and television ownership caps in local markets.

The commission is expected to allow newspapers and television or radio stations in the 20 largest markets to merge. This time, there is little opposition to easing the rule.

Bloomberg.com reported that the Newspaper Association of America said in an FCC filing that the cross-ownership rule needs to be relaxed because it undermines the commission’s goal of preserving strong journalism by keeping newspapers from luring investment by broadcasters.

In a separate proposal, Genachowski asked the agency to let Tribune keep its five TV-newspaper combinations. Tribune holds its television stations and newspapers under exceptions to a 1975 rule, Bloomberg.com said, and is asking the FCC to approve license transfers from the old company to the new entity as it emerges from bankruptcy proceedings. The combinations are in Chicago — where Tribune publishes its namesake newspaper and opened TV station WGN in 1948 — as well as New York, Los Angeles, South Florida and Hartford, CT.

Genachowski’s proposed revisions to the broader rule would partially grant relief that newspapers have sought as they lose readers to the Web and advertising revenue declines. The agency officials spoke on condition they not be identified because the matter hasn’t been made public.