FCC Withdraws Proposal to Relax Media-Ownership Rules

December 17, 2013

By Gautham Nagesh via WSJ

The Federal Communications Commission said it has withdrawn a proposal to relax the nation’s long-standing ban on owning multiple media outlets in the same market.

More than a year ago, then-FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski circulated a draft item that would have eliminated the ban on owning a radio station and newspaper in the same market. The proposal would have also paved the way for smaller TV stations to own newspapers, a change pushed by the struggling newspaper industry.

Now under the leadership of Chairman Tom Wheeler, the commission said Monday it has taken the old item off the table while it reassesses the issue.

The commission has long limited the number of stations one company can own to prevent a single entity from dominating local news. It also generally bars newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership. Both the newspaper and broadcast industries have lobbied the FCC to relax that ban.

The commission has tried to do so twice before, most recently in 2007, only to be rebuffed by the courts on the grounds that it had failed to examine the effect of the rules on diversity of viewpoints or minority ownership.

Mr. Genachowski agreed to delay his order in February, pending a study from the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council on the effects of the cross-ownership rules on minority media ownership and newsgathering. Released in June, the study largely supported relaxing the cross-ownership rules, raising the ire of groups that oppose media consolidation. By that time, Mr. Genachowski had left the commission, and the issue lingered until the confirmation of Mr. Wheeler last month

By law, the FCC must review its media ownership rules every four years. Because Mr. Genachowski deferred action on the 2010 review, the commission is on the verge of missing the deadline before the process restarts next year. While there is no statutory penalty for missing the report, a commission official said the FCC expects “to move expeditiously to take additional steps with regard to our broadcast ownership rules and recognize our statutory obligations.”

That suggests another order is coming next year, but it is unclear whether it would again try to relax cross-ownership rules.

Photo: USDA