The FCC now says it is OK with delaying a decision on the court challenge of its decision to loosen the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban, but its acting chairman says that doesn't mean it is ready to loosen them even more in light of the economic crisis.
In a filing with the court, the commission said it would no longer oppose a petition by public interest groups including Free Press, Prometheus Radio and United Church of Christ, to hold the case in abeyance pending new FCC leadership.
Under its old leadership-FCC Chairman Kevin Martin-the FCC had quietly filed a petition opposing the groups, but the FCC said Thursday that the opposition "no longer reflects the view of the majority of the commission."
Talking to reporters after a speech to the NCTA convention in Washington, acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps said "I would hope as some point we would look at this again. I think that public policy would mandate that we look at this again."
But he made it clear he was not necessarily advocating further deregulation in the fact of the tanking newspaper industry. "No, I do not believe that that sends a signal that, whoopee, we should have more newspaper broadcast cross-ownership.."
In fact, he said, it was his belief that too much consolidation "got us into the problems we are in right now."
But in a Q&A session with NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow, Copps did say that the FCC would be factoring the economic crisis into its regulatory decision-making. He said that might include giving a more sympathetic ear to hardship cases, taking into account the cost of regulation, and perhaps even clearing out some regulations that were no longer needed.
But he also made clear that was not to be read as any sign the FCC was getting out of the regulating business, again making the point that he thought consolidation had contributed to some of the industry's economic woes in the first place.
"This was eminently sensible," said Andrew Schwartzman of Media Access Project, which filed the original petition for abeyance. "We were very surprised that the commission didn't support abeyance in the first place," which he says is customary practice. "There is a new commission coming in, and there is reconsideration pending that could dramatically alter what the commission did."