Broadcasters, Newspapers Call Media Ownership Rules Outdated

First round of comments filed with the FCC

The media landscape may have changed dramatically, but opinions about the Federal Communications Commission's rules governing media ownership haven't.

In more than 25,000 comments received by the FCC by Monday, broadcast and newspaper owners argued that a 1975 rule barring ownership of both a TV station and a newspaper in a single market was something out of the dark ages. Meanwhile, public interest groups fretted over more media consolidation and losing local community voices.

The FCC proposed in December to relax the ban on cross-ownership in the top 20 markets, essentially codifying waivers granted companies like Tribune and News Corp. that own TV-newspaper combinations in the top markets. The rule was originally put in place in 2007 under Chairman Kevin Martin, but faced a court challenge, putting it back in play under Chairman Julius Genachowski.

The FCC is in the midst of a quadrennial review of its media ownership rules. Reply comments are due April 3.

In comments filed Monday, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Newspaper Association of America claimed the FCC rules were all but killing newspapers and hamstringing TV stations from competing in a fragmented media marketplace.

"Technology and market forces have moved light-years ahead of this outdated rule," said Caroline Little, NAA president and CEO. "Consumers have more choices among media voices than ever. It makes absolutely no sense to keep a rule on the books that has shackled newspapers and broadcasters since 1975."

Little added, "In these times of challenge for the news industry, it is irrational and unwise to keep a rule that suppresses investment in newspaper companies."

In addition to relaxing the cross-ownership ban, the NAB argued that the FCC should also relax the TV duopoly rules that prevent the ownership of two TV stations in smaller markets. "Local broadcasters should not be subject to a regulatory regime applicable only to them and not their competitors," the NAB wrote.

Consumer groups said that the FCC's rules won't accomplish what broadcaster and newspaper owners claim. "Increasing cross-ownership will not help the newspaper industry; it will only push it further into debt while also harming the production of quality local news. There is simply no credible evidence showing that relaxing the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule will benefit the public. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The majority of research—including the FCC’s own study—shows that TV-newspaper consolidation results in less news in local markets, as well as fewer independent producers of local news," said Corie Wright, senior policy counsel for Free Press.

The FCC is also looking into shared services agreements inked by TV stations to share either programming or sales services. Free Press charged that such agreements, which have been approved by the FCC in the past, as "skirting" local TV ownership rules. "If it walks like a duopoly and talks like a duopoly, it should be treated like a duopoly," Wright said.