Media-ownership ban causes stir

Two top congressional Democrats cautioned FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin against holding a Dec. 18 commission vote on whether to relax the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban, urging that more time be given to review the proposal.

In a letter to Martin sent Thursday, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, commended Martin for recently proposing to update the ban, which dates back to the mid-1970s, but said he also has “serious concerns that the timeline you have set forth is insufficient to allow for meaningful comment and evaluation of comments” on the proposed change.

The change would allow the parent company of a newspaper to own a broadcast station in the same market if the market ranks in the top 20 and if the station is not among the four highest rated.

“First, the commission is not affording interested parties the opportunity to file reply comments on the proposal,” Dingell said. “Second, if the commission adheres to your stated deadline of Dec. 18, 2007, for adopting a final rule, commissioners will have just one week to evaluate comments on the proposal.

“Amending media ownership regulations, including a rule that has been on the books for more than three decades, is a grave matter that deserves the commission’s full and fair consideration,” Dingell continued. “I strongly urge you to give a matter of this import the complete analysis and reflection it warrants.”

Dingell’s committee has general oversight of the FCC. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet — specifically tasked with following FCC issues — issued a statement Thursday echoing Dingell’s concerns.

“Chairman Martin’s media-ownership proposal deserves the utmost scrutiny,” Markey said. “Localism, diversity and competition are critical values in our national media policy. I urge chairman Martin to ensure that the Congress and the public have an ample opportunity to review and comment on how any changes to FCC media ownership rules may affect these vital public policy objectives.”

Markey’s subcommittee has a hearing skedded for Dec. 6 to review several ownership issues, including Martin’s proposed revision to the cross-ownership ban.

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