According to various sources, the Federal Communications Commission was expected Thursday to announce that a majority of commissioners had voted to propose scrapping the radio-TV cross-ownership rules, but leave in place the radio and TV local market ownership caps.
That would essentially preserve the FCC's attempted loosening of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules, which the FCC tried to do under then Republican chairman Kevin Martin.
A highly placed FCC source said Wednesday (Dec. 21) that the item was essentially the same as the one circulated by the chairman.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) was being voted by the commissioners on circulation, rather than waiting for the next public meeting, which means retiring commissioner Michael Copps would be able to weigh in on an issue near and dear to his heart. A final order will likely be scheduled for that public vote sometime in the first part of next year, after a sufficient notice and comment period on the proposed changes. That is particularly important since a lack of sufficient notice was one of the reasons the Third Circuit Court of appeals gave for throwing out parts of the FCC's 2007 decision under then chairman Kevin Martin to loosen the newspaper-broadcast crossownership rules.
While the NPRM basically reinstates the Martin plan of making combos between TV stations and newspapers in the top 20 markets presumptively in the public interest, it does put out for comment the Martin four-part test for determining whether such combos should be allowed and whether they should be the criteria. That test is "the extent to which the combination will increase the amount of local news in the market; whether each media outlet in the combination will exercise independent news judgment; the level of concentration in the DMA; and the financial condition of the newspaper or broadcast station, and whether the new owner plans to invest in newsroom operations if either outlet is in financial distress."
Broadcasters have not been happy with the news that the local market caps are not scheduled to be lifted, or that the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban is not being dropped altogether, even though a bipartisan trio of former FCC chairmen conceded to C-SPAN that they thought the ban should be scrapped but did not propose doing so for political reasons. Broadcasters have argued that the local caps are an artifact of a bygone era that prevent them from competing more cost-effectively in a media landscape remade by digital delivery.
The NPRM is a follow-up to the Notice of Inquiry on the commission's quadrennial media ownership reg review, which is required by Congress. But it is also responsive to the Third Circuit's remand of the Martin plan to loosen the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban. The court said the FCC had not given that change adequate notice or opportunity for comment. But it had no problem with Martin's decision not to loosen the other media ownership rules.
Also as part of the NPRM, the FCC will ask whether shared services agreements and other joint TV station operating agreements violate those local market station limits the FCC is keeping in place. Cable operators, led by the American Cable Association, have argued that agreements are a way to sidestep the rules and provide broadcasters with unfair bargaining power in retrans deals.
Small market TV station representatives met with commission staffers this week to make the case that they need those joint agreements to help preserve local programming, particularly local news.