Cross-ownership: A movable deadline


It’s been over a year since the FCC moved to allow local newspaper/broadcast combinations in America’s largest markets, but the proceeding is still hung up in court. And questions about waivers remain hung up as well. A group of media companies want time to explain amendments to and renewals of waivers to keep existing combinations intact, including Cox Enterprises, Calvary Inc., Bonneville International, Scranton Times and Morris Communications. Their request is to simply put an end to renewal after renewal after renewal, and grant waivers that will be good “until 90 days after the issuance of a final court order on pending judicial challenges to the Commission’s modified newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule.” The FCC has of course not granted this request, but it did grant an extension of time, until 4/10/09.

RBR/TVBR observation: Loosening up cross-ownership was part of the doomed 6/2/03 ownership dereg package pushed through the FCC by Michael Powell and stopped by the courts, and Kevin Martin tried to salvage the limited 20-market slice of it 12/18/07. Some watchdogs have argued that the companies operating such combinations at that time knew there was a risk that allowing the combinations would not withstand court challenge and should be forced to split up – this despite the Third Circuit’s comments that almost praised such combos (while questioning how associated local multimedia caps were derived).

We have always argued that nobody should be forced into a fire sale because the machinery of government is painfully slow and, in this case, practically frozen. Forcing a sale is especially true now – it would constitute a particular act of regulatory cruelty under current economic conditions.

The companies are absolutely correct – instead of going through the waiver process over and over and over again, the FCC should eagerly adopt the case-resolved + 90 days plan – they can even justify it under the Paperwork Reduction Act.