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Martin Stumps to Lift Newspaper Rule

In a speech to newspaper publishers, Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin made his case Tuesday for lifting ownership restrictions on local newspapers, saying new rules could boost readership, help stock prices and add newsroom jobs.

“Newspapers are the only media entities prohibited from owning a single broadcast station in the markets they serve,” Martin told the Newspaper Association of America convention in Chicago. “The [FCC] needs once again to try to update our rules to account for the dramatically changed media landscape.”

In 1975, the FCC banned the common ownership of a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same local market. In 2003, the agency replaced the ban with a cross-media limit under which one company could own a newspaper, three TV stations, up to eight radio stations and cable systems within the same market.

One year later, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed with the FCC that the 1975 rule was outdated in theory. But because the court rejected the commission's cross-media limit, the 1975 newspaper rule remained in effect.

Martin supports lifting the 1975 rule, claiming that it was adopted before massive changes in the media -- before the rise of the Internet, before the surge in cable-television penetration and before the loss of 300 daily newspapers.

“Much has changed since the days of disco and leisure suits, including the media marketplace. Over the past 30 years, we have seen an explosion in media outlets and other sources of news and information,” he said.

Martin added that he worried about the financial health of the press.

“As you all know better than I, newspapers are struggling financially. Newspaper circulation has declined steadily for more than 10 years. Losses accelerated last year,” he said.

The FCC’s 2003 media-ownership ruling drew strong political opposition. In his remarks, Martin indicated that champions of deregulation had to wage their own campaign to win over public opinion.

“The public needs to understand both the value that your papers offer and the struggles you face in continuing to provide news in an increasingly competitive media marketplace. Indeed, the failure of the commission to modify our rules is not our fault alone. The public has not been convinced of the need for change,” he said.