Martin Releases Media Ownership Proposal

November 13, 2007. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin released a proposal for revisions to the FCC's obsolete rules regulating ownership of newspapers and broadcast media.

He proposed allowing one entity to own a newspaper and one television station or one radio station, in the largest markets, subject to criteria and limitations.

Martin's proposal argues that "At least 300 daily papers have stopped publishing over the past thirty years. Their circulation is down, their advertising revenue is shrinking and their stock prices are falling. Permitting cross-ownership can preserve the viability of newspapers by allowing them to share their operational costs across multiple media platforms."

His proposal would provide for the presumption that a combination is in the public interest if it involves one newspaper and one radio or TV broadcaster, if the market at issue is one of the 20 largest Nielsen Designated Market Areas (DMA), "if the transaction involves a television station, at least 8 independently owned and operating major media voices (defined to include major newspapers and full-power commercial TV stations) would remain in the DMA following the transaction", and "if the transaction involves a television station, that station is not among the top four ranked stations in the DMA." In addition, under Martin's proposal, the FCC would consider other public interest factors.

Martin further proposed to make no changes to the local television duopoly rule, the local radio ownership rule, or the local radio-television cross ownership rule.

This is a statement by the Chairman, and not a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) or notice of inquiry (NOI). Nevertheless, Martin requested public comments on his proposal be filed in MB Docket No. 06-121 by December 11, 2007.

Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps immediately issued a release [PDF] responding to Martin's proposal. They predicted that it "could propel a frenzy of competition-stifling mergers across the land".

Also, on November 9, 2007, the FCC held a hearing in Seattle, Washington, on this subject. This was the FCC's sixth in a series of public hearings. In contrast, almost every decision made by the Commission is reached without the benefit of public hearings. Nevertheless, Commissioner Adelstein complained in his statement [PDF] that this proceeding is not public enough.

Commissioner Copps railed against "Big Media" in his statement [PDF].

Commissioner Deborah Tate wrote in her statement [PDF] that "America no longer relies solely on the local paper, or even the local television or radio station, for weather, sports, community events, and emergency alerts. Instead, local news is available online, whether written, audio or video, as well as in print and over the air, and even on our mobile devices. In addition, it is clear that the news-gathering habits of the younger generation are vastly different than those of my generation. Having grown up on the internet, this “I-generation” relies on global, digital, personalized, mobile information sources, whenever and wherever they may be. We must take these changes into account when fashioning media ownership rules which will take us into the next decade, where an even more tech-savvy generation awaits."