FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is looking to tie up whatever loose ends he thinks are dangling on the FCC review and redo of the 2003 ownership proceeding and bring the matter before the full Commission for a 12/18/07 vote. The pace, if nothing else, has already drawn fire from key senators from both parties. That pace includes wrapping up the relevant public forum schedule, which still has a hearing on ownership and another on localism to go and putting proposals before the public for commentary.
Martin has long been a proponent of relaxing broadcast/newspaper cross-ownership restrictions, and it is widely believed that this is a lock to be on his agenda this time around. The issue is key to many companies which are operating such combos on waivers pending FCC resolution of the issue. It is of particular interest to Tribune Co., which has a transfer of control pending and has five TV/newspaper groups (one in Chicago also includes legendary WGN-AM).
It is unclear how much more Martin will try to get through. But Capitol Hill media issue point man Byron Dorgan (D-ND) has already fired a broadside, demanding in a letter co-written with key GOPer Trent Lott (R-MS) that the FCC conclude a separate study of localism before even beginning to consider relaxing ownership rules. According to the New York Times, Dorgan told attendees at a Commerce Committee hearing, "If the chairman intends to do something by the end of the year, then there will be a firestorm of protest and I’m going to be carrying the wood."
In their letter, Dorgan and Lott wrote, "The Commission is under considerable scrutiny with this proceeding. Its last attempt at changing media ownership rules met with Congressional opposition and a reversal in a federal appeals court on both process and substantive grounds. This dubious track record makes it all the more imperative that this FCC conducts a transparent and thorough process and reaches a judicious decision."
RBR observation: The cross-ownership rules may be the biggest part of the 6/2/03 effort, and the Third Circuit Prometheus ruling actually noted that they are often result in a market’s leading news operation. It had problems with the underpinnings and the associated station caps. The 2003 attempt to raise the national TV potential audience reach cap from 35% to 45% was handled by a legislative compromise setting it at 39% (a Republican tip of the cap to News Corp. and CBS). Easing restrictions on television duopolies, particularly in smaller markets, was sent back, as was a plank to allow three-television groups in very large markets. Changes in market definitions for determining local radio groups were allowed by the court, although how to eventually define unrated turf was unresolved and is still subject to the old contour overlap definition. The bottom line: Get ready for all interested parties to crank up their noise machines.