FCC may rule soon on media ownership

[Associated Press]

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is proposing a plan that would wrap up by the end of the year the long-running debate over how many media properties a company can own in a single market.

Chairman Kevin J. Martin's proposal proposed schedule calls for a public hearing in Washington on Oct. 31, a hearing Nov. 2 in Seattle, publication of proposed rules Nov. 13 and a vote Dec. 18.

Among the rules that are potentially on the chopping block is a ban on one company owning a newspaper and broadcast station in the same market. The rule is of particular interest to Los Angeles Times owner Tribune Co., which is the subject of a pending buyout led by Chicago real estate magnate Sam Zell.

Tribune has waivers that allow the company to own both newspaper and broadcast properties in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Hartford/New Haven in Connecticut and Miami/Fort Lauderdale. The waivers would not be transferred to the new owners.

But if the FCC agrees to Martin's schedule and then votes to eliminate the cross-ownership ban, it becomes a moot point and allows Tribune to close the transaction by year's end, as it had hoped.

Martin said Wednesday that the plan under consideration was more open and had more public input than the process followed by his predecessor, Michael K. Powell, in 2003. Powell held one public hearing whereas the Martin-led agency, by December, will have conducted eight hearings all over the country and completed 10 studies.

After the commission's 2003 vote to relax certain ownership rules and tighten others, in which Martin was in the 3-2 majority, there was intense criticism from Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill and a public outcry. Much of the decision was eventually invalidated by a federal appeals court.

Media consolidation foes said Wednesday that the FCC chairman might be moving too fast. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said one month for the public to consider the rule was not enough.

Democratic Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein did not object to the timeline but said the FCC had a lot of work to do before making its decision.

"We should first address the appalling lack of ownership of media outlets by women and people of color," he said. "And we need to implement improvements in how outlets handle issues of concern to local communities."

Gene Kimmelman, a vice president at Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, called the studies "so flawed and so biased, they have no basis for relaxing media ownership rules."

Martin defended the studies, saying he allowed opponents to participate in how they were conducted.

article originally published at http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-media18oct18,1,4535695.story?coll=la-headl....

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