Good Riddance to a Bad Rule12/14/2007 07:00:00 PM Eastern
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, in an display of chutzpah that will surely earn him the enmity of many, is determined to use his Republican majority to partially undo the ban on broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership. The repeal of the old ban would cover only the nation’s 20 biggest markets, which is unfortunate. But at least it appears that this anachronistic regulation will hit the dustbin, since someone will likely challenge it in court immediately.
Many public interest groups will vilify Martin—several senators already have, threatening legislation and a complete overhaul of the commission if he went forward with what they see as more deregulation. The two Democratic FCC members, particularly Michael Copps, regularly preach the presumed evil of big media. It’s virtually all Copps talks about and part of the reason Martin has compromised on milder remedies than we suspect he would have preferred.
But FCC chairmen in the past, Democratic and Republican, have agreed that the ban was no longer needed. Keeping a broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership ban at this point in history, when even schoolkids have their own Websites, is lunacy. There is no lack of diverse voices in big cities or small.
What’s more, at the time the cross-ownership ban was imposed, in the mid-’70s, the newspaper industry was robust and very profitable. Now, in large part because of all those Websites, and because of cable, newspapers may need the synergy of linking with a television station in the same city. In cities where cross-ownership was allowed because the alliance existed prior to the FCC ban, we don’t believe the public is ill-served. Usually the cross-owned media outlets are better at serving the public because they have more resources to do so.
That’s why it is too bad that the cross-ownership ban is limited. We think that in middle-sized and smaller markets, where some stations and newspapers suffer through less vibrant economies, a newspaper-television combination would become a public asset. Those cross-ownerships aren’t strictly banned; an owner could ask for a waiver, but the FCC presumption is that those are not in the public interest.
One thing that could happen this week won’t make broadcasters very happy. Martin is likely to start a process that will require broadcasters to air certain types of programming and to run a government gantlet that smacks of content control.
Wiser commission heads or politically savvy ones may prevent that regulatory blast from the past, but we hope nothing (and no one) in the next few days deters Chairman Martin from wrapping up the media ownership review and moving on to a plateful of pressing matters.