Free Press Slams FCC Media Ownership Proposal

Group Calls it Tantamount to a Giveaway to Big Media

Free Press slammed FCC chairman Julius Genachowski over media ownership rule revisions being proposed for a vote by the other commissioners.

"Chairman Genachowski's attempt to overhaul longstanding media ownership limits is little more than a gift-wrapped giveaway to Rupert Murdoch," said Free Press CEO Craig Aaron in a statement. "Recycling the Bush administration's failed policies not only ignores the will of the courts and Congress but is a slap in the face of the 99% of Americans who oppose further media consolidation."

The chairman is proposing loosening the newspaper/TV station cross-ownership ban in the top 20 markets, and lifting restrictions entirely on newspaper/radio cross-ownership. But he is also proposing to start counting some joint sales agreements toward local ownership caps, caps the commission is not lifting.

Free Press also argues, as have a number of minority group advocates, that the FCC is rushing a vote before it has adequately determined their impact on women and minorities, a determination they say a federal appeals court requires.

There are also some FCC staffers who wonder whether the new rules will pass muster with that court if they are approved and then challenged by one side of the other, as is almost a foregone conclusion. As with the last attempt to revamp the rules in 2007, there are opponents on both sides. The Free Press contingent that believes the industry is too consolidated already, so that any additional deregulation is too much, and broadcasters, who wanted the FCC to lift the TV/newspaper ban, not just loosen it, and deregulation of the local ownership rules.

The chairman was said to have wanted to slate the vote on the rule changes at the November meeting, but Superstorm Sandy may have thrown off that timetable -- it was not on the Nov. 30 meeting agenda and can't be added now. He has said publicly he wanted a vote by the end of the year, so it can either he voted on circulation or at the December meeting if he is to meet that timetable.

Various FCC sources have suggested the chairman was looking for a vote on circulation, though that struck others as inviting the kind of criticism that Free Press leveled in the following: "The FCC is also reportedly attempting to avoid holding a vote on the matter at an open FCC meeting, and the agency has not held any public hearings on the proposed rule changes," said Free Press in a statement.

The rules were remanded to the FCC by the Third Circuit in part because of complaints that then-chairman Kevin Martin back in 2007 had not supplied sufficient notice or opportunity for comment on his changes. They were voted at a public meeting, but he first announced them in an editorial in The Wall Street Journal only three weeks before the vote, which the Third circuit said didn't cut it.