FCC reproposes 2007 ownership rules proposal


Former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin (R) spent the year 2007 criss-crossing the nation for hearings on media ownership, and opened the FCC to comments sent in from far and wide. In the end, his modest proposal for change left most rules intact but loosened cross-ownership restrictions. Now current FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is presiding over a new Commission that is essentially putting the Martin proposal out there for another try. NAB likes easing cross-ownership rules, and wants the FCC to relax others, particularly TV duopoly rules.

The Martin proposal would follow Martin’s plan to allow broadcast/print cross-ownership in the top 20 media markets. While this possibility does not sit well with a number of media watchdogs, others might suggest that it may become a moot point if newspapers continue to march down the path to extinction.

Local ownership caps for radio and television would remain as they are.

NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith stated, “NAB supports elimination of the broadcast/newspaper cross-ownership rules, because we believe journalism jobs could be saved under that scenario. We also support relief from TV duopoly rules to help sustain news and public affairs programming at struggling TV stations. Given the explosion of media outlets, we believe nearly 40-year-old ownership rules that restrict free and local broadcasting ought to be reformed to reflect today’s hyper-competitive marketplace.”

As noted by Smith, the decision not to make it easier to create television duopolies will not be welcome to broadcasters in markets where they are not possible to create under current rules. And it could get worse – the FCC is expected to delve into whether or not the use of joints sales agreements, shared services agreements and other local market agreements violate the spirit of the local television ownership caps with an eye toward breaking up those in existence and preventing formation of new combinations.

Martin may have sabotaged his own proposal, which passed on a 3-2 party-line vote, by writing an OpEd about it in the New York Times prior to its adoption. The current proposal presumably will not suffer from a similar lapse in judgment, and is expected to be before the public for comment for an ample period of time before any attempt is made to take a final vote. That is not expected to happen until 2012 has entered the second quarter at the earliest.

RBR-TVBR observation: The 2003 media ownership battle was a true media circus. In 2007, it was more or less downgraded to a fairly-well equipped itinerant carnival. We suspect that it will ratchet down even lower this time around, with the most passion coming from small-market television broadcasters who feel a strong financial need for regulatory relief, yet stand to be the one sector that might suffer a clampdown.