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FCC aims to ease newspaper/TV ownership ban

Proposal to loosen rule part of its regular quadrennial review

The FCC is looking to ease its long-standing restriction on simultaneous ownership of a TV station and newspaper in the nation’s largest markets.

The proposal to loosen the cross-ownership ban in place since 1975 was part of a 99-page Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued Thursday by the FCC as part of its federally mandated quadrennial review of its media ownership rules. The publication of the notice triggers a 45-day period for public comments on its proposals, which will be followed by a 75-day period of replies to those comments.

The Federal Communications Commission proposed retaining most of its major regulations regarding ownership of media assets, such as the ban on a single entity owning more than one of the Big Four broadcast networks, and the ban on a single entity owning more than one of the top four-ranked TV stations in the same market.

But with regard to newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, the commission proposes rescinding its ban in favor of a rule that would allow such ownership in the nation’s top 20 markets, though the combination could not involve a station ranked among the top four outlets in its TV market. Also, the market would have to retain eight “major media voices” for a newspaper-station combo to be approved.

In the proposal, the commission asserts that “a blanket prohibition on newspaper/broadcast combinations is overly broad and does not allow for certain cross-ownership that may carry public interest benefits,” adding that “the opportunity to share newsgathering resources and realize other efficiencies derived from economies of scale and scope may improve the ability of commonly owned media outlets to provide local news and information.”

The cross-ownership ban has already proved porous in recent years as the FCC granted notable waivers to the rule. News Corp. owns the New York Post and Wall Street Journal alongside its two Gotham broadcast outlets (WNYW, WWOR). It has also allowed Tribune Co. to own the L.A. Times and KTLA-TV Los Angeles. (The last time Tribune changed hands, in 2007, the FCC pushed through a hasty extension of Tribune’s cross-ownership waivers that raised hackles among media watchdog orgs.)

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