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Originally published December 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 19, 2007 at 2:14 AM

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FCC changes media ownership rules

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), overturning a 32-year-old ban, voted Tuesday to allow broadcasters in the nation's 20 largest...

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), overturning a 32-year-old ban, voted Tuesday to allow broadcasters in the nation's 20 largest media markets, including Seattle, to also own a newspaper.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was joined by his two Republican colleagues in favor of the proposal, while the commission's two Democrats, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, voted against it.

Martin pushed the vote through despite intense pressure from House and Senate members to delay it. The White House has pledged to turn back any congressional action that seeks to undo the vote.

Martin described the media-ownership proceeding as "the most contentious and divisive issue" to come before the commission. That proved true as the two Democrats blasted Martin's plan, with Adelstein calling it "a monumental mistake."

Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen, another vocal foe, ripped the new policy as another step in a long march toward greater consolidation of media ownership, a trend he has said threatens democracy.

"The question you have to ask is, 'If we keep down this road, what's next?' " he said.

Martin noted concern for the steady decline in revenue for newspaper companies and said his proposal "strikes a balance" between the realities of the changing media marketplace and the preservation of diversity and competition in broadcasting.

Under his proposal, one entity would be permitted to own a newspaper and one broadcast station in the same market. But the market must be among the 20 largest in the nation and after the transaction, at least eight independently owned-and-operated media voices must remain. In addition, the TV station may not be among the top four in the market.

In Seattle, that means The Seattle Times Co. and The Hearst Corp., owner of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, would be barred from acquiring television stations KOMO, KING, KIRO or KCPQ. The owners of those stations — all major network affiliates — would be prohibited from buying one of the newspapers.

Blethen said he doesn't expect the FCC's new rule will affect Seattle anytime soon. But he predicted the FCC majority would push to eliminate more barriers that limit newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership and the number of radio or TV stations a single company can own in a market. "One thing I've learned from watching the FCC is, they're practitioners of the slippery slope," Blethen said

The owners of KING (Belo, of Dallas), KIRO (Cox Enterprises, of Atlanta,) and KCPQ (Tribune Co., of Chicago,) own newspapers and TV stations in other markets that predate the ban the FCC lifted Tuesday. Hearst, based in New York, owns 26 TV stations and 12 papers, none in the same city.

U.S. Reps Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, and Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, introduced legislation Tuesday to block the new rule from taking effect. "Relaxing restrictions ... would lead to the detriment of localism and diversity," Reichert said.

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As the commission loosened ownership requirements on one industry, it tightened the reins on another by approving a 30 percent national cap on subscribers for cable companies. The move would prevent a single cable-TV provider from serving 30 percent or more of the national pay-TV audience.

Martin was joined by Copps and Adelstein in voting for the cap while the two Republicans were opposed.

Seattle Times reporter Eric Pryne contributed to this report.

Top 20 markets
Designated market areas:
No. Market
1. New York
2. Los Angeles
3. Chicago
4. Philadelphia
5. Dallas-Fort Worth
6. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose
7. Boston
8. Atlanta
9. Washington, D.C.
10. Houston
11. Detroit
12. Phoenix
13. Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla.
14. Seattle-Tacoma
15. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.
16. Miami-Fort Lauderdale
17. Cleveland-Akron
18. Denver
19. Orlando-Daytona Beach, Fla.
20. Sacramento, Calif.
Source: Nielsen Media Research

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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