Small-Market TV Stations to FCC: Loosen TV-Duopoly Rules

Small-market TV stations told the Federal Communications Commission that chairman Kevin Martin's proposal to do nothing to loosen TV-duopoly rules is contrary to a court's instruction and flies in the face of evidence in the record.

Martin has proposed to loosen the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules, but he said "any further relaxation in the radio or television broadcast markets should not be allowed," which had the small-market broadcasters seeing red.

In their filing -- the deadline to respond to Martin's proposal was Tuesday -- the coalition said it would not object to the FCC putting aside the TV-duopoly issue (owning more than one TV station in a market) while it considered the cross-ownership issue. But to say that it would do nothing "would sacrifice the interests of the public that smaller-market television stations serve," the group said.

The broadcasters argued that a finding that retained the rule without justifying why it remains in the public interest would violate the Telecommunications Act, which requires the FCC to review its rules periodically to determine whether they should be modified or eliminated absent that showing.

It would also fly in the face of the D.C. Appeals Court, which remanded the duopoly rule to the FCC with instructions that it "must affirmatively find that the commission’s local-television ownership rule continues to serve the public interest based on a carefully developed proceeding record," the group said. "That is exactly what it appears the commission is poised not to do. It seems prepared to reach a decision in the face of a record that, far from supporting such a decision, demonstrates that the duopoly rule must be modernized."

The court, in a case brought by Sinclair Broadcast Group, said the FCC had not justified why non-broadcast voices were not counted in the eight-voices test -- the number of such "voices" in a market that had to be left after a duopoly was created in order for it to be in bounds.

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.