Top 20 market crossownership relief a temporary reality


The FCC voted to adopt one modest portion of the 6/2/03 media ownership rulemaking back in December of 2007 — partial relaxation of the ban on the crossownership of broadcast and print properties in a single market, applicable to the top 20. It’s pretty much been frozen under appeal since then, until now. The Third Circuit has decided to lift the freeze and proceed with the case.

FCC current FCC under Chairman Julius Genachowski had asked that the rules continue to be frozen, since the FCC was in the process of reviewing them anyway as part of the Quadrennial Review. The Court decided to move forward despite this request.

The FCC’s preference to keep the rule frozen was not unanimous on the 8th Floor. The Court’s current move was hailed by FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, who petitioned it for just such a move in a letter last April.

McDowell said, “I am pleased that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has decided to move forward promptly with its review of the Commission’s 2007 media ownership decision — and to lift the stay that until today has frozen in place burdensome ownership rules that are many years out of date.”

He continued, “As I said in the letter I filed at the Third Circuit last spring, when the court was contemplating a change in the Commission’s position concerning the timing of court review, I favor swift action on the pending appellate challenges.”

He concluded, “The lifting of the stay on the Commission’s very modest relaxation of the newspaper/broadcast crossownership rule is particularly appropriate given the economic upheaval affecting the ongoing viability of many daily newspapers and broadcast stations. I also believe that the Commission can only benefit from instruction of a Third Circuit ruling on the 2007 ownership rules as we begin the next round of the statutorily required quadrennial review of the regulations.”

RBR-TVBR observation: The original court review of the Michael Powell rule change seemed at least partially disposed to allowing crossownership, noting that such combinations are often the class of their market.

Watchdogs have argued that they are often the best in town because their formidable news-gathering assets make them so difficult to compete with that most don’t try very hard, if at all, and as such cross-owned pairs limit competition and the availability of diverse viewpoints.

On the other hand, as McDowell argues, with both television and newspaper hurting, the possibility of someone finding a winning business model for a combined operation should be encouraged rather than not.

One thing is for sure – this is not the last word on the matter.