FCC Publishes Final Orders on Newspaper-Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rules

The Federal Communications Commission published the final orders on its new rules on the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules. This means that as soon as the rules are published in the Federal Register -- likely within the next couple of weeks -- anti-consolidation activists will challenge them either at the FCC or in court, and perhaps in Congress, as well.

In the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership order, the FCC reiterated that it saw its loosening of the ban as "modest," given that the last time around, the commission tried to lift the ban entirely.

The FCC described its new newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule, adopted in December, as "a presumption that generally will permit certain newspaper-broadcast station combinations in the largest 20 markets and generally will preclude them in all other markets." It has a public-interest test for such combinations, as well.

It also said it made the decision to loosen the ban after concluding that "on balance … the evidence suggests that some newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership combinations can enhance localism."

Andrew J. Schwartzman, president of Media Access Project, which helped to challenge the FCC's attempt to scrap the ban entirely in 2003, said his group will challenge the rules after they become official (publication in the Register).

That will either be a petition to the FCC to reconsider the decision or a court challenge, depending on what MAP finds in the just-published order, which is 124 pages long, including commissioner statements. But either way, the group thinks additional deregulation is not warranted.

Free Press was already weighing in against the order in the court of public opinion. Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, issued the following statement: "Despite chairman Kevin Martin's claims, his new rules are anything but 'modest.’ The special waivers in today's order granted to companies like Media General and Gannett illustrate that the FCC is not serious about enforcing its own rules. Every local market in this country is now fair game in this new era of unfettered media consolidation.”

Silver continued, "Given that it took the agency more than one month to finally release the order, the commission's hasty rush to judgment on Dec. 18 is baffling. Chairman Martin owes an explanation to the members of Congress and groups -- liberal and conservative -- that urged the FCC to give this critical decision more time."

Consolidation critic Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) also pledged to try to block the new rule legislatively.

An FCC spokeswoman had not responded at press time as to how or whether the FCC was informing the Third Circuit Court of Appeals of the order's release. The change to the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules came, in part, as a response to that court's remand of the more deregulatory 2003 rule rewrite.

This time around, Martin said only the newspaper-broadcast modification, rather than loosening TV- and radio-ownership rules, was warranted. That decision displeased broadcasters, some of which may want to challenge the rule as not being deregulatory enough.

Tribune already challenged the rules in court, although anti-consolidation activists are challenging that, as well.

John Eggerton

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.