Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of the "Newsday" newspaper from the Tribune Company is likely to pose the first major challenge to the FCC's new media ownership rules — assuming they are still in effect.
Even without the "Newsday" purchase, Murdoch was in the process of seeking waivers to continue to control two newspapers — "The Wall Street Journal" and "The New York Post" — and two New York television stations — WNYW-TV and WWOR-TV. With "Newsday," Murdoch adds a third newspaper to his New York stable.
The new FCC rule, approved by a deeply divided commission in December, permits a company to own just one paper and one television station in the same city in the top 20 markets so long as there are at least eight other independent sources of news and the station is not in the top four. (The stations controlled by News Corporation are the fourth- and sixth-largest in the New York market.)
Kevin J. Martin, the chairman of the commission and architect of the new media ownership rules, has made clear that there is a strong presumption against granting waivers.
"It's exactly the kind of consolidation I would hope the commission finds is not in the public interest because the free flow of information in this country is not accommodated by having fewer and fewer voices determine what is out there," Sen. Byron Dorgan told the "New York Times." "They try to argue that there are all these outlets — the Internet, television, radio, newspapers and so on. It may be more outlets, but it's the same ventriloquists. You have five or six corporate interests that determine what most Americans see, hear and read."
Murdoch managed to control two local television stations through one permanent and one temporary waiver to the old rule. But the renewal of the licenses of both stations, under review since 2006, has been challenged by groups opposed to greater media consolidation.
"He was outside the permissible rules to begin with, and since the broadcast licenses were under review, he's acquired ‘The Wall Street Journal' and now maybe ‘Newsday,'" said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, the president of the Media Access Project, an advocacy organization committed to diversity of media voices. Schwartzman has helped lead the effort against renewal of the New York broadcast licenses controlled by News Corporation.
"They're playing double or nothing with these new rules by going after ‘Newsday,'" Gene Kimmelman, a senior lobbyist in Washington for Consumers Union, told the newspaper. "We'll see how serious the chairman really is about applying his new rules."