Opposition from Congress and consumer groups is fierce

Kevin Martin has incited a firestorm of protest, ranging from lawmakers on Capitol Hill to watchdogs from some of the nation’s top consumer advocacy organizations. Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle blasted Martin’s attempt to rush the ownership changes through before the Christmas holiday.

“[Martin] has yet to make the case for why any further media consolidation is necessary,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND. “Indeed, he is relying on an assumption that newspapers are doomed and that cross-ownership is necessary to save them. I believe this is not the case.”

The senator has called for broadcaster commitments to local coverage before any rule changes are addressed. Dorgan has introduced legislation with colleagues from both parties that would force the agency to delay the vote.

In the House, Rep. John Dingell, D-MI, the power chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called for an extended comment period for Martin’s proposal. The congressman told Martin he has “serious concerns that the timeline you have set forth is insufficient.”

Three groups — the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union and Free Press — cited studies that show cross-ownership eliminates competition in media markets. A cross-owned station leads the other stations in the market to collectively curtail their news output by about 25 percent, the groups said.

Cross-owned stations, and markets with cross-owned stations, don’t produce more local news; and, when they do, the stations often slant that news in line with the editorial position of the co-owned newspaper, the groups said.

Ben Scott, director of Free Press, called the plan “corporate welfare” for media conglomerates. In an interview with the “National Review,” he warned that the proposal could be interpreted as relaxing waiver requirements in markets outside the top 20.