FCC files defense of crossownership relaxation


The General Counsel of the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday filed a brief with the US Third Circuit Court of Appeals defending the FCC’s 2008 vote to relax the broadcast-newspaper crossownership ban. The move under Chairman Julius Genachowski (D) to defend the action that took place under former Chairman Kevin Martin (R) brought a cry of outrage from Commissioner Michael Copps (D).

“It is difficult for me to believe that our new FCC, with its new majority, is in court today basically accepting the validity of the pro-consolidation decision of a previous Commission.  We have had 18 months to reconsider the awful vote that loosened our newspaper-broadcast cross ownership rules, but the best we can do, judging from today’s brief, is to kick the media ownership can farther down the road.  Months ago we asked the court to be patient with us while the agency deliberates where it wants to go on media policy.  The court understandably ran out of patience.  Eighteen months is time enough to stop implementation of a rule that can only wreak more harm on our already threatened and diminished media,” Copps railed.

In reality, the current FCC boss had hoped to get the 3rd Circuit to put the whole thing on ice until the Commission completed its current broad review of its ownership rules. But that didn’t happen and the court moved the case ahead back in March.

It appears that Genachowski is primarily fighting to preserve the FCC’s authority, not the particular rule change.

“Today our General Counsel filed a brief in the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit defending the Commission’s authority to make the changes to our media ownership rules that the Commission adopted in 2008.  While the rules being challenged were adopted before I became Chairman, I support our General Counsel in arguing that the order was within the discretion of the Commission and the brief’s general defense of the Commission’s authority to make decisions based on the information before it at the time,” Genachowski said in a statement.

“Congress required the Commission to review media ownership rules on a quadrennial basis and the agency is in the middle of the 2010 ownership review.  The review requires us to look at any changed facts in the marketplace based on a record which the Commission is now assembling, while ensuring that our rules promote the lasting public interest goals of competition, localism, and diversity.  Our 2010 quadrennial review will focus on these values, in the interest of an informed citizenry and vibrant media marketplace,” the Chairman added.

The liberal advocacy group Free Press also released a statement denouncing the move to defend the action taken under a Republican FCC. It noted that the US Senate had passed a resolution of disapproval of the crossownership relaxation in 2008 – with then-Senator Barack Obama (D) as one of the supporters of the resolution. It was Obama, as President of the United States, who appointed Genachowski to his current post.

RBR-TVBR observation: This is pretty much a waste of time and effort for everyone. (Except for Tribune Company, which would like to have its grandfathered top 20 market combinations made street-legal forever.) We don’t know of a single TV owner with even the slightest interest in buying a daily newspaper and most newspapers don’t have the financial wherewithal these days to buy a taco stand, much less a major market TV station. Nonetheless, if there are any situations where the merger of two struggling companies might save a newspaper and benefit the local community with stronger news coverage, those situations are going to be well outside the top 20 markets. That is the reason why the outmoded crossownership rule should be eliminated – completely.