FCC approves top-20 cross-ownership


FCC Chairman Kevin Martin got his 3-2 party-line vote to eliminated the cross-ownership ban in the top 20 Nielsen DMAs. A newspaper owner will be allowed to own a television station outside the market’s top four, or a radio station, as long as eight independent voices remain and as long as the cross-owned entities maintain separate news operations.

Additionally, the waiver rules were tightened over what had previously been announced. The acquired entity must be in dire straits, and the acquiring entity must commit to a net increase of local news in the market, with an acquired broadcast facility required to air seven hours a week.

The Democratic commissioners found the act appalling. Michael Copps said that the public hearings and expert testimony were a for show, and Jonathan Adelstein called the vote a "brazen defiance of Congress." They also accused Martin of shoving the measure through without regard for due process.

But the Republicans argued that study has been thorough, that most citizen comments were not about cross-ownership, and that the public’s wishes on many issues such as preventing further deregulation of radio and television ownership caps, were in fact honored. Deborah Taylor Tate noted new sources of competition; Robert McDowell noted that areas of innovation seem to be those areas hampered by less regulation and the current congressional mandate toward deregulation; and Martin said it wasn’t process, it was the heat of the issue that his Democratic colleagues were truly worked up over, noting occasions when their own actions failed to allow for lengthy debate and public input (in particular, the AT&T/Bell South merger).

A key addition to the measure was the grant of ongoing waivers for six new and 36 grandfathered cross-owned combinations. Democrats felt the last minute blanket grant was improper; the Republicans thought it was fair to allow waivers deemed in the public interest already under a stricter blanket prohibition against cross-ownership.

RBR/TVBR observation: Now we wait to see how long it will take for a legislative response, and how loud it will be. Elsewhere, the volume know is already turning up toward the maximum level. Presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) has already condemned the move; Jesse Jackson Sr. condemned the anticipated minority action in advance; and watchdogs are already threatening legal action. Meanwhile, broadcasters are steamed about the potential imposition of new and onerous regulation and the Newspaper Association of America is already complaining about the restrictive nature of the loosened rule.