If anyone had any doubt about who is driving the anti-consolidation bus in the US Senate, Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) pretty much put it to rest by handing the gavel to Byron Dorgan (D-ND) at yesterday’s hearing on media ownership and localism. Dorgan is leading a bipartisan group of senators who are putting forth a bill which would slow down the apparent timetable for an FCC vote on ownership rules. Nobody knows yet what changes may be in the works, but once they are announced by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a minimum of 90 days would have to be set aside for public comment. There would also be a requirement for completion of a separate localism proceeding and a minority ownership proceeding. If passed, that would put an end to Martin’s suspected target date of December 18.
"This is again a bi-partisan effort to stop the FCC from destroying the local interests that we have always felt must be a part of broadcasting," he said. "It is time to ensure that we first protect localism and diversity, which the FCC appears to have long forgotten. Only then can we really review the rules of media ownership in a thorough process to see if it is actually in the public interest to reverse any of those rules, or if greater public interest protections are necessary."
Dorgan’s co-sponsors for the "Media Ownership Act of 2007" include Trent Lott (R-MS), Barack Obama (D-IL), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), John Kerry (D-MA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Diane Feinstein (D-CA).
RBR/TVBR observation: There has been speculation that the Sam Zell Tribune ESOP proposal hinges in part on the fate of five TV/newspaper pairings. There has been further speculation that Martin has avoided granting waivers to the pairings pending a cross-ownership ruling to increase the odds of at least one 8th Floor Democrat voting with him to ease the rules and allow the Tribune transaction to move forward. At this point, we would recommend the waivers be granted pending resolution of the matter, since the chances of moving at Martin’s preferred pace are looking more and more remote. Meanwhile, if we were involved in the Tribune transaction, we’d be seriously considering just how important the pairings really are, given that other multimedia companies are splitting print and broadcast one way or another, while at the same time watchdogs and legislators are promising to scuttle any regulatory relief.