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Dorgan Opposes Martin's Cross-Ownership Proposal

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) does not support Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin's proposal for only a partial lifting of the ban on co-owned newspapers and TV stations in the same market and no other media-ownership changes. Dorgan says the proposal only adds urgency to his efforts to put the breaks on further deregulation

While that is far less than Martin voted for in the generally deregulatory 2003 rule changes remanded by a federal court, it is still too much for Dorgan, who is expected to come out against the proposal.

“The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has put forward what I’m sure he regards as a reasonable compromise on the issue of media consolidation," Dorgan said in a statement Tuesday. "[Martin] is specifically proposing to allow further concentration in the top 20 markets in the United States, allowing the newspaper and a broadcast-television station to be owned by the same company. But he has yet to make the case for why any further media consolidation is necessary. 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. He has also failed to make the case that cross-ownership will be beneficial to local communities -- that requires an understanding of how ownership affects local coverage."

"The FCC still has not completed a separate proceeding with a thorough study of the impact of media concentration on localism," he added. "In my view, that work is a necessary and a prerequisite to any discussion of whether media-ownership rules ought to be changed. Sen. [Trent] Lott [R-Miss.] and I have introduced legislation that would address chairman Martin’s rush to judgment on this question. We believe it is important that the public is heard and that facts guide these decisions. The proposal from chairman Martin today only adds a greater sense of urgency to our effort to enact our legislation.”

Martin got major pushback from Dorgan and commission Democrats after floating a proposal for voting on new rules -- or, in this case, rule -- by the end of the year. Democrats saw it as a rush to judgment, in part to help Tribune, which needs cross-ownership waivers and, ultimately, a rule change to complete its deal with investor Sam Zell. It was unclear at press time whether all of the Tribune cross-ownerships would be covered by the Martin plan.

Dorgan, along with Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and other senators, proposed legislation that would tie Martin's hands on any ownership changes until the FCC completed separate proceedings on broadcast localism and minority ownership -- proceedings that would put off media-ownership changes until sometime next year at the earliest.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.