Washington -- The Federal Communications Commission is
expected to begin rethinking its regulations prohibiting one company from owning a
newspaper and a television station in the same market.
A push to force the FCC to revoke the cross-ownership ban
has also begun in Congress. But many industry observers are skeptical of any action taking
place this year.
Under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the FCC is required
every two years to review its regulations prohibiting the dual ownership of a newspaper
and a TV station in one market. In a late-January letter to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.),
FCC chairman William Kennard said the agency will re-examine the cross-ownership issue, as
well as regulations prohibiting cable companies from owning television stations in their
But agency observers doubted that the FCC will tear down
the cross-ownership ban, which was intended to ensure that a large variety of companies
control the nation's media and entertainment outlets.
'I think that the majority [of the five FCC
commissioners] are going to adhere to the rule,' said Henry Geller, a former general
counsel at the FCC. 'They believe in diversification.'
Geller said the impact of diverse ownership of news
organizations is felt primarily at the local level. While there is an abundance of
national news sources, most people get their local news from their local newspaper and
But Shaun Sheehan, Washington vice-president of Tribune
Co., said that while smaller markets might rely on one newspaper and one prominent TV
station, the cross-ownership ban doesn't have much purpose in major markets, which
have more media outlets.
'The world's changed,' Sheehan said.
'It is time to change the regulations.'
Sheehan acknowledged, though, that change is probably not
imminent, and he said efforts to reverse the ban will have to focus on the 'long
Tribune is currently entangled in the cross-ownership ban.
The company bought a Miami television station as part of a six-station deal in 1996, and
it is required to sell off the station or the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.)
Sun-Sentinel newspaper by March 22.
The company can ask the FCC to extend its waiver until
after the agency reviews its regulations. But in his letter to McCain, Kennard wrote that
a biennial review of the cross-ownership ban should not be the sole condition for a
Other critics of the ban, which was enacted in 1975, have
argued that it has actually been anti-competitive.
Richard T. Kaplar of the Washington, D.C.-based Media
Institute argued that in some markets, there is the potential for stronger media outlets
to subsidize struggling outlets.
Despite pressure from both the broadcasting and newspaper
industries, the prospects of Congress loosening the ban are not good.
States News Service