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'Full Repeal' No Longer Fit To Print?

The New York Times Co., which also owns TV Stations, and its New York Times newspaper editorial board apparently don’t see eye to eye on allowing more TV stations and newspapers to be co-owned in the same market. Either that or the company has had a major change of heart in the past six years.

Back in December 2001, in voluminous comments to the FCC, the Times argued for "full repeal" of thenewspaper-crossownership ban for all but "the most highly-concentrated markets," saying that its own longhistory of owning both stations and papers "demostrate that the repeal of the rule would serve the public interest."

The company argued that the rule "no longer serves any legitimar purpose…in today’s media saturatedenvironment," sounding for all the world like Kevin Martin’s op-ed in its own paper of a little over amonth ago in which the FCC Chairman proposed modifying the crossownership ban.

Time for a game of "Who Said It?" I’ll provide the quote from either The New York Times FCC filing of 2001 or Kevin Martin on media consolidation. Guess who said which:

1. "Newspaper readers. television viewers, cable and satellite subscribers, radio listneres and Internetusers now have access to a striking multiplicity of independent voices. Given this great diversity, there is no longer any valid rationale for retaining a government-imposed limit on common ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations at the local level."

2. "The ban on newspapers owning a broadcast station in their local markets may end up hurting the qualityof news and the commitment of news organizations to their local communities. Newspapers in financialdifficulty often have little choice but to scale back news gathering to cut costs."

3. "Repeal [of the cross-ownership rule] would permit newspaper/broadcast entites to use combined resources to provide more news and information services [and] to do so at a higher level, and to create new services such as all-news DTV channels.

4. "At the heart of all of these facts and figures is the undeniable reality that the media marketplacehas changed considerably over the last three decades. In 1975, cable television served fewer than 15 percent of television households. Satellite TV did not exist. Today, by contrast, fewer than 15 percent of homes do not subscribe to cable or satellite television. And the Internet as we know it today did not even exist in 1975. Now, nearly one-third of all Americans regularly receive news through the Internet."

Answer: 1 and 3 are the New York Times Co. in 2001. Two and 4 are Kevin Martin in the New York Times Nov. 13 of this year.

Fast forward to Monday’s Times, this time the "ed" part of the "op-ed" page. What was the Times’ reactionto Martin’s modified proposal? Unhappiness that he did not go for full repeal, as the company had urged when the newspaper-broadcast crossownership review was launched.

Well, no.

The same company that talked about competiton and voices in answer number one above, said the following in a Dec. 17 editorial on the eve of a planned Dec. 18 vote on the rule:

"For all the technological advances that have shaken American media over the last 30 years, remarkably little has changed about who produces the local news," says the paper. "The Internet outlets repurpose and comment on the news. A few cable channels provide national news. But in many small and even medium-sized cities there are only two entities that put money into local news-gathering: the local newspapers and the TV stations.

Mr. Martin has said he is willing to work with other commissioners to find language ensuring that there is a “high hurdle” for mergers that are in smaller cities or involve top TV stations. That is welcome. But as it stands, his proposal would potentially allow an unhealthy media consolidation that would not serve the public good."