FCC to Review Newspaper/Station Ban

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Las Vegas— Keeping a promise he made to Congress last month, Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell is expected to use the agency's May 10 meeting to launch a review of the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban.

At last week's National Association of Broadcasters convention here, FCC officials said they were prepared to present the four commissioners with a proposal for their next meeting.

"We are looking toward writing a document that would be available to the chairman and the commissioners if they want to entertain it at their May 10 meeting," said Roy Stewart, chief of the FCC's Mass Media Bureau.

Since 1975, the agency has prohibited companies from owning both a newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same market.

Powell has strongly indicated that he believes the ban is outdated, though he has not disclosed whether he favors relaxing or repealing it.

"Perhaps a starting point might be that it would be a broad-based examination of the rule," Stewart said. "We haven't touched it in 25 years and we have only waived it four times. The exact dimensions of the document will be set by the commission."

FCC chief of staff Marsha MacBride, who appeared on a panel with Stewart at a forum hosted by the American Bar Association, declined to elaborate on Stewart's comments.

"I think that says it well," MacBride said.

Also last week, Powell said the federal government was unlikely to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold cable-ownership rules recently struck down by a lower federal court.

"There is no interest of the United States dramatically implicated by the cable decision," Powell told reporters after addressing the NAB convention last Tuesday. "I think it's a case you can't win in the Supreme Court."

In March, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals struck down numerous FCC cable ownership rules as First Amendment violations, including one that barred a cable operator from serving more than 30 percent of pay TV subscribers.

Earlier this month, the FCC and the Justice Department declined to seek rehearing before the full D.C. Circuit. The Media Access Project, Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America filed for rehearing on April 16.

Powell said the decision not to seek rehearing was a clear signal that neither the FCC nor the Justice Department wants to pursue the case further.

Soon after the March court decision, the FCC suspended conditions that applied to AT&T Corp., the only cable operator over the 30-percent cap, in connection with the MSO's merger with MediaOne Group Inc. last June.

The agency had sought public comment as to how it should respond to the court decision.

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