NAA: FCC Retention of Cross-Ownership Ban Would Violate Administrative Procedures Act

The Newspaper Association of America (NAA) Monday asked the FCC to lift the 37-year-old ban on cross-ownership of TV stations and newspapers, saying that to leave it in place or only modify it given evidence in the record that the ban hurts, not helps, journalism would be arbitrary and capricious, and thus a violation of federal law.

That came in NAA comments to the FCC's Quadrennial ownership regulation review mandated by Congress. The FCC is also reviewing media ownership regs per instructions from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

In its filings -- comments were due March 5 -- the association said that repealing the ban would boost investment in both TV stations and newspapers, promoting the FCC's goal of more local news and public affairs programming.

As to the FCC's goal of promoting a diversity of voices, which supporters of the cross-ownership ban would be threatened by combining newspapers and TV station ownership, NAA says that goal as already been achieved. It cites the Internet, mobile platforms, cable and satellite channels as reasons that there are now a wide range of media and content choices.

"The newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule is a relic that undermines the Commission's goal of preserving strong journalism to serve the information needs of American communities. Eliminating this rule, and thus allowing newspapers to obtain investment from in-market broadcasters and other media companies, is the one action that the Commission can take to accomplish this goal," NAA concluded.

The FCC's latest shot at coming up with a rule revision that passes judicial muster includes loosening the cross-ownership rule much as it tried to do in 2007 under then Kevin Martin.

NAA says that is far too little to be of much help. It still leaves small and mid-sized markets with a presumption against cross-ownership, which NAA says would be counter to both the public interest and the evidentiary record, which means it would be an arbitrary and capricious decision that violates the administrative procedures act, the newspapers argue.

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.