Reaction was swift to the Federal Communications Commission's announcement it had voted the media ownership item Thursday, in part because those responses had been teed up for hours, with the commission initially trying to announce the item earlier in the afternoon.
The move got a thumbs down from a couple of anti-consolidation activists historically opposed to any loosening of ownership regs.
"It appears that the FCC is proposing to adopt the same loophole-ridden scheme that the Bush Administration FCC had tried to push through," said Andrew Schwartzman of Media Access Project, the public-interest law firm that has repeatedly challenged FCC deregulatory moves. "The public understands that excessive concentration of media ownership is bad for democracy, so we expect to convince the FCC to take a stronger position in the end," he said. But his words were not all discouraging. "That said, I certainly agree that there is no need to tamper with the local TV and radio ownership rules, and I'm pleased that the Commission appears to have resisted pressure to loosen those rules as well."
Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, borrowed --with credit, from Yogi Berra, saying it was "déjà vu all over again" -- the FCC's latest shot at getting rules to pass legal muster includes loosening the newspaper-broadcast crossownership rules in manner similar to that proposed by then-FCC chairman Kevin Martin in 2007.
"Those failed policies were resoundingly rejected by the public, Congress, and the courts. The FCC should be working to remedy the mistakes of past administrations - not repeating them," said Aaron. "This action not only flies in the face of promises made by the president on the campaign trail, but it will make it much harder for local and diverse owners to secure a piece of the public airwaves."
While the FCC is seeking comment on ways to better encourage minority media ownership, Aaron says loosening the rules runs counter to that goal."Especially appalling is the FCC's failure - once again - to meaningfully address the issue of ownership diversity...The evidence overwhelmingly shows that media consolidation hinders opportunities for women and people of color to create and sustain broadcast businesses. If the FCC is serious about addressing the diversity problem, it needs to tighten its rules, not relax them."
But Aaron gave the FCC props for looking into whether shared services agreements should count against local ownership caps. "The FCC must address the proliferation of secret deals to combine local newsroom operations in violation of the agency's rules." He also said that since the FCC has simply voted on a proposal, not a final order, there is still time to turn back and "refocus on policies that will benefit the public instead of just boosting bottom line of a few giant media conglomerates."