FCC cross-ownership plan has watchdogs barking


Broadcast and newspaper interests look at the FCC’s plan for media- and cross-ownership caps and see a great big pile of nothing. However, watchdogs and at least one member of Congress see it as an ill-advised forwarding of Bush-era policy. However, a cable organization was happy to see stumbling blocks thrown in the path of TV duopolies.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman of Media Access Project praised the freezing of radio and TV caps. However, he had other problems with the proposal. “It appears that the FCC is proposing to adopt the same loophole-ridden scheme that the Bush Administration FCC had tried to push through. The public understands that excessive concentration of media ownership is bad for democracy, so we expect to convince the FCC to take a stronger position in the end. It is also disappointing that the Commission has not taken a more aggressive stand in promoting minority ownership of the media.  One reason that the Court of Appeals reversed the last FCC broadcast ownership decision was that the FCC failed to assess the impact of its actions on minorities.”

Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron said, “The FCC must be having a Yogi Berra moment, because it’s déjà vu all over again on the failed policies of the previous administration. Those policies were resoundingly rejected by the public, Congress and the courts. The FCC should focus on remedying the mistakes of past administrations — not repeating them. This action not only flies in the face of promises made by the president on the campaign trail but will also make it much harder for local and diverse owners to secure a piece of the public airwaves. Instead, the already dwindling number of smaller and independent media owners will be swallowed up by the same media giants that have crushed local journalism, killed local radio and left us with the same cookie-cutter content from coast to coast.”

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) also weighed in. He said, “Localism, diversity and competition are critical values in our national media policy. Over time, the technologies utilized to deliver information to the public have changed, but these values remain constant. Diversity of ownership is a primary proxy for diversity of viewpoints. Ownership limits are key to ensuring that the public has access to a wide array of voices in local news and information. Loosening ownership rules could enable the type of media consolidation that would make Citizen Kane look like an underachiever. This cannot be allowed to happen. Our democracy relies upon an informed citizenry.  There are few issues that the FCC will address that will have a more profound impact on our civic institutions than media ownership rules. The FCC must give careful review and consideration to any revisions to the rules governing media cross-ownership and include ample opportunity for public review and comment. I will continue to monitor this matter closely.”

On the flip side, the American Cable Association was pleased to see the FCC hold the line on television duopolies and question the regulatory viability of various forms of LMAs where actual duopolies are impermissible. ACA’s Matthew M. Polka said, “ACA is very pleased that the FCC has sought comment on the impact of separately owned, same-market broadcasters who coordinate their action in the retransmission consent market.  In comments filed with the FCC, ACA has shown that coordinated negotiation of retransmission consent harms local competition and artificially increases retransmission consent fees, which consumers absorb in the form of higher rates.  ACA commends the FCC for taking this important next step in the process, which we hope will lead to an outright prohibition of a practice that harms competition and consumers.”