Martin proposes changes to cross-ownership rules

On Tuesday, FCC chairman Kevin Martin proposed the commission amend its 32-year-old ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership as part of its review of broadcast ownership rules.

Currently, a newspaper can own one TV or radio station only in the very largest of broadcast markets and that ownership is subject to FCC rules and review.

Martin made his desire known in an op-ed piece published in The New York Times Nov. 13 and with the release of specifics of his proposal on the commission Web site.

In his editorial, Martin identified falling newspaper circulation and dwindling advertising dollars as signs indicating the poor health of the industry. At the heart of these symptoms is “the undeniable reality” that the media marketplace has changed over the past 30 years, he wrote.

“In 1975, cable television served fewer than 15 percent of television households. Satellite TV did not exist,” he wrote. Today, however, the media market is far different with fewer the 15 percent of households not subscribing to a pay TV service.

Failing to amend the rules to improve the health of newspapers will result in newspapers withering and dying, he wrote.

In laying out his proposal on the commission Web site, Martin noted that over the past 30 years at least 300 daily newspapers have ceased publication. Martin’s proposal would shift the perspective of the commission on cross-ownership transactions receptive of potential deals as in the public interest if certain requirements were met, including:

  • the market of the proposed transaction must be one of the 20 largest Nielsen DMAs;
  • the transaction involved a major daily newspaper and one TV or radio station;
  • if the transaction involved a TV station, at least eight independent media voices, including major newspapers and full-power commercial TV stations, would remain in the DMA post transaction
  • if the transaction involves a TV station, it is not among the top four ranked stations in the market.

On Tuesday afternoon, commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, the Democrat members of the commission, issued a statement on the commission Web site, casting the chairman’s proposal as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

The pair alleged the proposal “could repeal the ban in every market in America, not just the top 20.” Copps and Adelstein pointed out that the top 20 markets account for more than 43 percent of U.S. households, or 120 million Americans. They also express concern that media companies will press for loopholes to extend the cross-ownership proposal to smaller markets.

The commissioners also said the proposal also will work counter to promoting minority and female ownership of television stations because those stations eligible for cross-ownership under the proposal — those not among the top four rated in the market — are “more likely to be owned by small, independent broadcasters.”

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