Copps urges deeper inquiry into Murdoch Dow Jones merger

By Peter Kaplan, Reuters

One of five members of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said on Thursday the agency should investigate the impact of News Corp's proposed acquisition of Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co. and whether FCC media ownership restrictions are "adequate" to deal with it.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, in a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, said the agency should open an inquiry into "whether approval of this transaction accords with our public interest responsibilities and whether our existing media ownership rules and precedents are adequate to deal with this proposed transaction."

Copps, one of two Democrats on the five-member commission, said the deal would give News Corp "enormous influence over politics, art and culture across the nation and especially in the New York metropolitan area."

In the local New York area market, he said, the company would operate two of the most popular TV stations and two of the most popular newspapers.

A spokeswoman for the FCC said she could not immediately comment on the letter. A spokesman for News Corp. declined comment.

Long-standing FCC rules restrict media cross-ownership and ban ownership of a newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same market, unless the FCC grants a waiver.

Copps' comments come in the midst of a dispute over the FCC's reexmination of its media ownership rules. Critics of media consolidation, including some lawmakers, expressed alarm recently when Martin called for the FCC's five commissioners to reach a decision on the long-running issue by Dec. 18.

Critics fear Martin will propose relaxing ownership restrictions, a move that could benefit News Corp and real estate tycoon Sam Zell, who is leading a proposed leveraged buy-out of media group Tribune Co.

Copps acknowledged that under current ownership rules, in previous cases the FCC had not applied the local cross-ownership restrictions to publishers of newspapers like the Wall Street Journal that compete in the broader, nationwide U.S. market.

But in his letter Copps said that the previous decisions were "antiquated" and "no foundation on which to build a media policy for the 21st Century."

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