Monday, March 3, 2008

Merry Christmas, Rupert

(Originally posted November 23, 2007)

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is apparently pushing forward with plans to “revise” the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule. If it happens – and he appears to have the votes to swing it – he’ll be able to present Rupert Murdoch and other media barons with a sweet Christmas present.

They’ll have a clear path to owning a TV station and a local daily newspaper in the same market. Current FCC rules don’t allow such cross-ownership. (Of course, Murdoch already has a waiver to the rule and owns the New York Post and the television stations WWOR-TV and WNYW-TV in New York City. And there are other markets, too, that are grandfathered in the sweet arrangement.)

The cross-ownership wobbling is a retrenchment from Martin’s original plan, which would have opened the floodgates for media consolidation. Michael Powell, FCC Chairman in 2003, tried the same thing and got thoroughly pummeled by Congress and the public. Chairman Martin and his supporters are pushing for a December 18 vote, allowing just a four-week period for public comment.

We’re pleased to see Republican Trent Lott and Democrat Byron Dorgan joining forces to inject a bit of accountability into the process. They’ve introduced S 2332, the Media Ownership Act of 2007. It would require a 90-day comment period on any proposed media ownership rule changes. Not only would it delay Martin’s consolidation initiative until 2008, the measure has strong bi-partisan support and would also require hearings on local service.

If the Commission’s experience in
Seattle earlier this month is any indication of public disaffection with the notion of more media consolidation, they’re in for a rough ride.

I think Chairman Martin may find a lump of coal under the tree this year.

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