FCC Boss Unveils US Media Ownership Changes

15 November 2007

WASHINGTON DC: The long-running soap opera about everyday US media folk and how many newspapers and television stations they are allowed to own in one market appears to be nearing its dénouement.

Kevin Martin (pictured), who helms the Federal Communications Commission, has decreed after many months of mulling that a company should be able to own one newspaper and a radio or TV station in any of the nation's top twenty markets - but with strings attached.

After the transaction, at least eight independently owned and operated media voices must remain in the market, and the TV station may not be among the market's top four.

The move towards relaxing the 32-year-old cross-ownership rules does not go as far as some in the industry had hoped and expected - namely a complete free-for all - but Martin said it was "both a moderate and a fair proposal".

He added: "Newspapers are struggling. Permitting cross-ownership can preserve the viability of newspapers by allowing them to (share) operational costs across multiple media platforms."

Reformists claim the cross-ownership ban hurts newspapers by forcing investors to choose between print publications or TV stations, in addition to preventing firms from cutting newsgathering costs.

But a legion of vociferous critics of the so-called liberalization say the current rules keep local media out of the control of the big conglomerates.

Avers Boston University journalism professor Lou Ureneck: "I think decentralized, locally owned media tend to be more responsive, more responsible and more democratic."

Martin's proposal will face a vote from all five FCC commissioners - three Republican appointees and two Democrats - expected on December 18.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff