McDowell: Don't Delay Cross-Ownership Decision

FCC commissioner registers concerns over "grave economic situation" facing media in letter to Third Circuit Court
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Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell has written the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to register his opposition to delaying the adjudication of challenges to the commission's decision to loosen the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rules. (See related story, "FCC Drops Opposition To Delaying Cross-Ownership Rule Decision")

Saying that the "grave economic situation now confronting the nation's ‘newspapers and news media' is a matter of immediate concern to lawmakers in Congress and top antitrust enforcement officials," and argued for the commission's original position. "I support the position expressed in the Jan. 9 Opposition, which urged the Third Circuit to proceed with its consideration of the court challenge."

That came in response to the FCC general counsel's decision Thursday to tell the Third Circuit it was withdrawing its opposition to delay.

"I think we need some resolution of this question from the court," McDowell said, citing both the "sad state of the newspaper industry," and the fact that the the FCC next year will have to review its media ownership rules once again. "I would like to have the old proceeding resolved before then."

McDowell favors further relaxing the ban. Commissioner Adelstein sees it quite differently. "Given that the newspapers are in tough shape and the broadcasters are in tough shape, it doesn't seem like joining up two industries that have declining revenues, many of which are on the verge of bankruptcy, is going to save either one of them," he said.

Adelstein also points out that newspapers and broadcasters have not been beating down the doors to combine. "We haven't had one transaction that has been proposed under the new rules, and I don't see any coming in the near future."

After the FCC agreed to loosen the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban in the top 20 markets, and potentially smaller ones, Free Press, the Media Alliance and others challenged the move as too deregulatory, while broadcasters and newspaper owners challenged it as not deregulatory enough.

The issue has recently gained more attention, brought to a boil by the roiling economy and the almost daily announcements of newspaper layoffs, buyouts or bankruptcies.

Following a Cable Show session at which they among the featured participants, both McDowell and Adelstein weighed in on the issue.

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