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House Dems Urge FCC to Keep Ownership Regs In Place

Some House Democrats, including familiar names on the House Energy & Commerce Committee have gently urged the FCC not to be too quick to loosen the broadcast-newspaper crossownership rule or scrap the TV/radio crossownership rule.

As B&C reported last week, both of those are on the table in a proposed media ownership rulemaking being circulated by the chairman for a vote late this week or early next.

In the letter, whose signatories included ranking Communications Subcommittee member Anna Eshoo (Calif.) and former chairman Ed Markey (Mass.), the legislators evoked a congressional effort to block a similar loosening of the newspaper-broadcast crossownership rule that they supported back when the FCC adopted a similar move.

"Historically, media ownership protections such as the newspaper-broadcast crossownership rule, the local radio and local television ownership rule [the rulemaking proposal suggests keeping those in place], and the radio-TV crossownership rule have ensured competition in newsgathering among local news outlets, encouraged employment of staff in independent newsrooms and station operations and promoted the continued presence of local programming.

They point out that the FCC's staff report on the Information Needs Of Communities concluded that the Internet still relies on reporting by traditional media, a pool that is "relatively fixed or declining." During this difficult time for journalism, they say, "strong rules are needed to support the work of newsroom staff and the production of local investigative journalism."

Separately, broadcasters this week asked the Supreme Court to overturn a Third Circuit decision leaving in place most of the aforementioned ownership regs, arguing that the FCC never sufficiently justified why it did not include new media in its "voices" test for allowing local market combos.

The legislators even leveled a veiled threat at the commission, pointing out that 56 House members co-sponsored a resolution of disapproval that, if it had passed, would have nullified the FCC's attempt under Kevin Martin to relax the newspaper-crossownership ban. "we would be equally concerned about a similar weakening of media ownership rules in the Commission's current review, and urge the Commission again [Tusday] to uphold important protections for localism and diversity."

They added in a shout-out for examining joint operating and shared services agreements. They are preaching to the choir on that score, since the item already includes looking into whether such agreements are a way to circumvent the ownership limits.

Also signing on to the letter were Mike Doyle (Pa.), Jay Inslee (Wa.), John Conyers (Mich.), Maxine Waters (Calif.), Maurice Hinchey (N.Y.), William Lacy Clay (Mo.), Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) and Jan Shakowsky (Ill.).

Inslee, Slaughter and Hinchey were original co-sponsors of the House version of the media ownership rule-blocking resolution in 2008, which did not pass that then-Republican-controlled body. The Democratically controlled Senate did pass its version, with the help of some Senators who have since gone on to other jobs, resolution co-sponsors Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.