FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is prepared to junk federal rules that limit companies from owning TV and radio stations in the same market — and go half way in doing the same for TV stations and newspapers. He’s circulating a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would wipe out the TV-newspaper restriction in the 20 largest markets, trade magazine Broadcasting and Cable reports citing “a person familiar with the document.” But it would keep a test that could block a combo in smaller markets if it would result in less local news, less diversity of voices, or too much concentration of economic power. Genachowski’s proposal sounds a lot like the standard that former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican, pushed through in 2008. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned those rules this past July, saying that Martin hadn’t given the public enough time to weigh in on them. Public interest advocates who want to preserve cross-ownership restrictions applauded the court decision. Newspaper and broadcast owners say that mergers are needed to preserve local newsrooms as their companies compete against a massive number of national news competitors on cable TV and the Internet. As part of the rulemaking process, the FCC will ask whether stations skirt the ownership limits
Should The FCC Crack Down On TV Stations That Cooperate On News, Ad Sales, And Retransmission Deals?
We’re starting to see some interesting filings at the FCC as it prepares to revamp media ownership rules — and that includes a letter sent today by a strange-bedfellows coalition of Dish Network; Time Warner Cable; activist group Free Press; the Newspaper Guild; and the American Cable Association which represents small and mid-sized operators. They’re united by a concern about TV stations that “cannot lawfully merge under the FCC’s local television rules (but) are nonetheless consolidating their core operations, staff and news production.” The group says that in cities including Denver, Peoria, and Syracuse, “TV stations have consolidated their newsrooms and newsgathering by merging their facilities and laying off dozens of journalists, crew members and other staff. The resulting news product is essentially a re-run of stories produced by another station, which reduces content diversity in terms of viewpoints, substance and issue coverage.” The writers also complain about cases where TV stations cooperatively sell ads — and negotiate retransmission consent agreements. That troubles pay TV providers and “it is a prevalent practice with at least 36 pairs of separately-owned Big 4 affiliated stations in 33 different markets, actually engaging in coordinated negotiations through use of a single (retransmission consent) bargaining representative.” The group wants the FCC to “take account of how the reduction in local broadcast competition harms local communities and markets, and to ensure that the neither the substance nor the goals of the media ownership rules are thwarted.”
The National Association of Broadcasters issued a quick response: “Evidence shows that when a strong local TV station shares resources with another broadcaster, the result is the creation of more local news, weather and sports,” spokesman Dennis Wharton says.
FCC lawyers probably have more to fear from Verizon’s expected court challenge to the regulatory agency’s net neutrality rules. The phone company will argue that the FCC doesn’t have the legal authority to regulate Internet services. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how far Free Press, a scrappy consumer activist group, can go with this new suit charging that regulators acted arbitrarily when they imposed tougher open Internet rules on wired connections than on wireless ones. Basically, Free Press wants the rules for wired broadband to apply to everyone. Here’s the release:
BOSTON — Free Press filed today in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston a petition for review of the Federal Communications Commission’s December 2010 Open Internet order. The Federal Register published the new rules last week, opening the window for such lawsuits. Free Press, headquartered in Western Massachusetts, will challenge the arbitrary nature of rule provisions that provide less protection for mobile wireless Internet access than they do for wired connections. Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood made the following statement:
“When the FCC first proposed the Open Internet rules, they came with the understanding that there is only one Internet, no matter how people choose to reach it. The final rules provide some basic protections for consumers, but do not deliver on the promise to preserve openness for mobile Internet access. They fail to protect wireless users from discrimination, and they