Cross-Ownership Heats Up

WASHINGTON Relaxing federal rules on cross-ownership of daily newspapers and nearby broadcast media would leave public debate vulnerable to domination by few voices in communities in 12 states, anti-consolidation groups said today.

Also Thursday, an industry-funded think tank told regulators the cross-ownership rule is “pointless” in an age of media abundance marked by multiple TV and Internet news outlets not present when the regulation was imposed in 1975.

The perspectives are part of the battle surrounding the rewriting of key ownership restrictions by the Federal Communications Commission, which is not expected to reach any conclusions until next year. A federal court rejected the agency’s earlier bid to ease rules.

The think tank, The Media Institute, told the FCC the world has changed in recent decades. “Media ‘scarcity’ by any definition has long since vanished, eliminating any need for the government to impose diversity,” it said in comments filed with the agency.

The Media and Democracy Coalition, an alliance whose 25 members include Common Cause, Consumers Union, and other public advocacy groups, directly opposed that viewpoint. “More media mergers in our already highly consolidated media markets will reduce already insufficient local news coverage and eliminate diverse voices and viewpoints,” the groups said in releasing studies conducted by Mark Cooper, director at research of the Consumer Federation of America.

Cooper examined media markets in California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Washington, Oregon, Arkansas, Virginia, Montana and Maine.

In Los Angeles, for example, Cooper concluded that if there were a merger between a major TV outlet and The Los Angeles Times or The Daily News, “Los Angeles will end up with homogenous media that can’t address the needs of this city’s diverse populations.”

After mergers in Sacramento, Calif., and other state capitals, “media outlets would be vulnerable to domination by politicians or their deep-pocket supporters,” according to statements released with Cooper’s research.