The Federal Communications Commission is just about to vote on whether to relax the only media ownership rule that has not been changed since its 1975 inception – the ban on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership.
Although this rule has long outlived its rationale, public interest lobbying groups in Washington are urging the FCC to keep the rule to prevent “media consolidation.” These concerns are misplaced. The FCC should instead be helping newspapers continue to invest in the great local journalism that they do best.
Years ago, this issue was about relaxing the rules to allow newspapers to buy television stations and take advantage of synergies in local news operations. The issue today is about generating investments that will support newspaper journalism. Simply put, when newspapers need investments or are being sold, it makes no sense to force potential investors – including local, civically minded investors – to the sidelines if they own a broadcast station.
Under the 1975 ban, investment in a newspaper is prohibited if a company has more than 5 percent interest in a broadcast station. And at a time when radio stations are abandoning local news coverage for satellite news feeds, a local newspaper in the business of reporting the news should not be prohibited from placing a bid on a local radio station.
Washington occasionally feels like living in a time warp. Some interest groups have dusted off playbooks used in 2007 to build opposition to any alterations to the cross-ownership ban, despite colossal changes in the way consumers receive news and information. Free Press and other groups claim that relaxing the rule would reduce minority ownership of broadcast stations, without citing any evidence that this actually would happen. NAA supports efforts to promote minority ownership of broadcast stations. This can be achieved if the FCC adopts or initiates reviews of many of the proposals put forward by groups such as the Diversity and Competition Supporters (see below). Simply saying no to the relaxation of the cross-ownership ban doesn’t help anyone.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has put forward a compromise that would allow cross-ownership of a newspaper and a television station in the top 20 media markets, provided that the station is not among the top four in the market, and that at least eight major media voices remain in the market after the merger. The proposal also would allow cross-ownership of newspapers and radio stations.
Although NAA believes the best course of action is the complete repeal of this outdated rule, we consider this compromise a step in the right direction. NAA is working to encourage the chairman’s colleagues on the commission to support this compromise and resist the calls from those parties that continue to say no.
An FCC vote on this proposal could occur in the coming days. Below is background information that you can share with your colleagues. To date, this has largely been an inside-the-beltway issue, but it would benefit from greater visibility and discussion.
-Editorial by The Star Tribune, Minneapolis
-Blog post by Steven Waldman
Principal author of the FCC’s report, “Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Broadband Age”
-Op-ed by Caroline Little, NAA president and CEO
-Comments filed with the FCC by the Diversity and Competition Supporters
-Op-ed by David Honig, founder, Minority Media and Telecommunications Council
-“FCC Takes on Cross-Ownership,” The New York Times