Media ownership action may stall
A plan by the head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to consider major changes to media-ownership rules by year's end could...
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON — A plan by the head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to consider major changes to media-ownership rules by year's end could be derailed by growing calls for the agency to complete a long-running study of how broadcasters serve their communities.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin took a major step toward wrapping up the study, begun in 2003, by holding one of the last public hearings on the localism issue Wednesday.
At the hearing, most witnesses, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, urged the FCC to go slowly, echoing recent concerns by some lawmakers after learning of Martin's proposal to try to vote on media-ownership changes Dec. 18.
The FCC also delayed plans to hold its last media-ownership public hearing in Seattle on Friday.
The hearing probably cannot be held until at least mid-November, jeopardizing Martin's tight timetable.
The FCC's two Democrats, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, joined the go-slow chorus, saying they doubted the study could be completed to fit Martin's timetable.
"I don't see how that gets done between now and the end of the year if you're going to do it right," Copps said.
Martin, a Republican, has not proposed specific changes but is expected to push to allow more media consolidation, such as eliminating a ban on one company owning a newspaper and TV station in the same market.
Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times and TV station KTLA, long has advocated the change and needs the ban lifted or FCC waivers in Los Angeles and four other markets to close an $8.2 billion deal to take the company private. Tribune faces financial penalties if the deal doesn't close by Dec. 31.
Many consumer groups and the FCC's Democrats have expressed reservations about easing the ownership rules, fearing more consolidation would eliminate independent voices and degrade local news coverage. Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen also has been an outspoken supporter of ownership limits.
A poll released Wednesday by the Media and Democracy Coalition, an alliance of groups opposed to media consolidation, found that 70 percent of respondents thought media consolidation was a problem and 57 percent said it should be illegal for a company to own a newspaper and TV station in the same market.
Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., wrote to Martin last week asking that the localism study be completed, formal policies proposed and the public given 90 days to comment, before other media-ownership issues are considered.
Martin said that addressing how broadcasters serve their communities should be done as part of a broader media-ownership package.
Derek Turner, research director of Free Press, a media-overhaul group, said at Wednesday's hearing that its analysis of FCC data found markets where companies had waivers to own newspapers and TV stations had less local news than markets that didn't.
The FCC should proceed cautiously, other witnesses said.
"I would urge the commission not to fast-track its consideration of the real and lasting impact that further consolidation would have on localism in broadcasting," said radio personality Bob Edwards, national first vice president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
Material from The Associated Press and Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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