Originally posted on the Broadcast Law Blog.
In a Public Notice released today, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin announced his intention to modify only the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule, among all of the multiple ownership rules under consideration. That rule prohibits ownership of a broadcast station and daily newspaper in the same market. Somewhat surprisingly, Martin proposes to leave all other multiple ownership rules untouched. And his proposal only suggests clearing the combination of a newspaper and either a television station or a radio station in the Top 20 markets, and only if the TV station is not among the Top 4 rated stations in the market. Any other combination would be presumed to be prohibited, though a showing could be made to rebut that presumption.
As we have previously written, Chairman Martin has long signaled his desire to modify or eliminate the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule. His specific proposal was also described in an op-ed piece he wrote for today's NY Times, and which is attached to the FCC Public Notice. It would allow ownership of a daily newspaper and one broadcast station (radio or TV, but not both) in the top 20 DMAs (i.e. TV markets). Even then, Martin would prohibit common ownership of a newspaper and any of the top four TV stations in that market, and would require that there be at least eight independently owned media voices (daily newspapers and full-power TV stations) following the transaction.
Martin does not otherwise propose any changes to the other multiple ownership rules currently under consideration, including limits on local TV and radio ownership, as well as the national TV ownership cap that counts UHF stations at 50% of their actual audience. Martin's editorial makes clear that he would also scrap the Commission's former "cross media" limits that were remanded back to the FCC by the U.S. Court of Appeals in the 2004 Prometheus decision. The "cross media" limits would have weighted various media within a market to determine what level of media ownership would be permitted in that market.
In the accompanying New York Times editorial, Chairman Martin acknowledges his feeling that "the press is not on my side." Perhaps that feeling, coupled with the knowledge that he is now a lame duck Chairman, led him to this relatively modest proposal to address only the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule, and to modify it in a relatively minor way. As Martin notes, this particular rule has been attacked by both Republican and Democratic FCC Chairmen over the years and thus, this is probably the least controversial of the multiple ownership rules under consideration.
The modest nature of Chairman Martin's proposal also increases the likelihood that the Commission will consider this in December, as Martin had hoped. He would surely like to be able to say that he acted on the multiple ownership proceeding during 2007.