McDowell urges court to rule on cross-ownership


FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell has fired off a letter to the Third Circuit asking the court to rule on pending litigation concerning newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership, noting that a previous FCC request to ignore a motion to delay has been withdrawn. McDowell would much rather see swift action.

The original motion, filed under the regime of former Chairman Kevin Martin, challenged the need for more delay requested by numerous watchdog organizations, noting that there has been uncertainty over media ownership rules for a long time already.

Under Acting Chairman Michael Copps, the FCC now has indicated it would accept a delay until personnel changes on the FCC 8th Floor are in effect. The turnover amounts to 60%. A new chair, Julius Genachowski, is awaiting Senate confirmation, and each party will be getting one rank and file commissioner apiece, identities at this point unknown.

McDowell added, “I also note that the grave economic situation now confronting the nation’s ‘newspapers and news media’ is a matter of immediate concern to lawmakers in Congress and the top antitrust enforcement officials at the US Department of Justice.”

In support of this statement, he included public releases on the topic from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

He added one more quote from a document sent to the court in January under former Chairman Kevin Martin, stating, “The Commission would also benefit from a resolution to this litigation before the agency is required once again to perform its statutorily mandated periodic review of its media ownership rules next year.”

Martin’s limited relaxation of cross-ownership rules for the top 20 DMAs was passed by the FCC in a strict party line vote 12/18/07 and has been tied up in the courts since.

RBR/TVBR observation: At this point, its impossible to imagine a ruling in favor of the Martin relaxation having any immediate effect other than relieving existing cross-owned combos of any doubt about their regulatory viability. Neither newspapers nor broadcasters are in any position to do much wheeling and dealing at the moment.

It is also our belief that the synergies between print and broadcast are somewhat overrated anyway. But both are hurting, and one of the services suffering the most is coverage of local news. So if any owners out there can find a way to make cross-owned combos work, maybe it’s time to let them have a go at it.

Even consolidation foe and Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps seemed to agree with that in recent comments. We agree with McDowell in any case – release the ruling already.