Further illuminating the fuzzy lines of division when it comes to the issue of media ownership is John Rook, former DJ, program director and station owner, and current consultant and commentator on radio and media issues. Discussing the proposal of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to undo cross-ownership restrictions in the top 20 markets, he said, "Chairman Martin’s desire to expand deregulation assumes newspapers are doomed and that only a print/broadcast combination can save them. In fact, a serious review of content could do wonders for both newspapers and broadcast. Under the total control of bean counters, deregulation of the media thus far has reduced the coverage of news and given the public fewer choices. More competition, not further deregulation is needed." The remarks were made on his blog at JohnRook.com. Rook even labeled Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein "the two sane commissioners." Noting that thousands of citizens have called for no further dereg, Rook suggested to Martin that "The public has spoken, as Judge Judy would say, ‘Put on your listening ears, Kevin.’"
RBR/TVBR observation: On Capitol Hill, Democrats are generally against further dereg — the opposition is more even more wall-to-wall now than before, since the fairly recent departure of John Breaux (D-LA). Many Republicans have crossed over the aisle to join them. The NAB has come out in favor of loosening cross-ownership restrictions, easing rules for TV combos and perhaps lifting radio caps in the largest markets, but it hasn’t been giving these issues a huge push. Free marketeer and Commissioner Robert McDowell just went public wondering why broadcasters aren’t asking for more freedom, all while some, like broadcasters Rook and Jim Goodmon, and newspaper owners like Frank Blethen, have come out in opposition to further deregulation, showing that even within the industry there is a divide.
The bottom line, it seems to us, is that according to the Third Circuit remand, Martin could have tried to go for the entire 6/2/03 deregulatory package. All he needs is better underpinnings to justify the rules. Rather than do that, Martin is attempting a partial implementation of a one portion of 6/2/03, and in view of the fact that the Third Circuit practically gave its own blessings to such combinations, you’d think the necessary underpinnings wouldn’t be too hard to come by.
However, watchdog Free Press has found a chink in the FCC’s own study, that such combos take the wind out of would-be in-market news competitors, and resistance to even Martin’s modest proposal appears to be stiffening.
All of which should make for an interesting close to 2007.