The watchdog community was ready, and the aiming seemed already to have been done, when FCC Chairman Kevin Martin announced his intention to try for a media ownership vote on 12/18/07. Most who commented were against any further deregulation. A coalition of watchdogs, StopBigMedia.org, released a statement noting that it was "shocked by the FCC’s secret timetable," and already has a click-and-send message ready for people to fire off to their representatives in Congress. It reads, "A report in the New York Times reveals that the FCC is moving forward with a secret timeline to vote on sweeping changes to media ownership rules. This is just the most recent in a long series of FCC moves to avoid public scrutiny. I strongly urge you to call for Congressional oversight hearings on media ownership. Media is a life-and-death issue for me and my community, and the FCC has not done enough to study the impact that more consolidation would have on diversity, localism, and competition. The FCC is poised to make the same mistake it made in 2003, when it ignored unprecedented public outcry, and had to be reined in by the courts. Help hold the FCC accountable. Please call immediately for oversight hearings on media ownership."
Although alarms are being sounded and barricades manned by watchdogs, many believe that Martin’s deregulatory goals may be relatively modest, given the popular, judicial and legislative hurdles thrown before the 2003 ownership effort. He has frequently stated his support for ending or relaxing the restrictions on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership. Both the National Association of Broadcasters and the Newspaper Association of America have asked for that relaxation. NAB has also pointed out that allowing small-market television stations some of the same duopoly benefits that are available in larger markets may be a necessity for their continued solvency, but has not recently called for much else in the way of further deregulation.
RBR observation: It’s interesting that a likely push for cross-ownership comes just as many multimedia companies are or are considering splitting their broadcast and print properties into separately-run entities. While watchdogs opposing any move of any kind are still on fire, business interests in favor of action, short of companies like Tribune, may be less so. Stay tuned.