Consumer Groups Push Back on Martin Cross-Ownership Plan

Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Free Press Gang Up on FCC Chairman

Looking to try to head off Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin's plan to loosen the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union and Free Press were pushing their market-level analysis that they said shows that cross-ownership leads to less and more slanted news.

In a filing with the commission Wednesday, the three groups argued that their studies show that:

• Cross-ownership crowds out the competition. The presence of a cross-owned station leads the other stations in the market to collectively curtail their news output by about 25%;

• Cross-owned stations -- and markets with cross-owned stations -- don't produce more local news; and

• Cross-owned stations produce slanted news in line with the editorial position of the co-owned newspaper.

They argued that Martin's plan to lift the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership in the top 20 markets, and only for stations not among the top-four rated, was a gutting of the rules, particularly given what they saw as a more liberal waiver policy for stations below that threshold.

Martin described it as a moderate approach and one prompted by a changing media marketplace and struggling newspapers.