Clinton backs ownership rules

WASHINGTON — The Clinton administration will tell the FCC today that it should not relax limits on media ownership, including rules which ban one broadcaster from owning more than one TV station in a market, sources said.

The administration’s comments, which will be filed by the Commerce Dept., are intended to counter efforts by the broadcasting industry to win further ownership deregulation. One source predicted that the administration’s advice to the FCC will closely follow the White House’s positions during the debate over the Telecommunications Act of 1996. At the time, the White House strenuously opposed efforts to allow greater media concentration, including broadcast duopoly, and cross-ownership rules barring one company from owning TV stations and newspapers in a local market.

In November, the FCC said it was willing to consider some relaxation of the ownership rules, but since then has sent a mixed message to the television industry. In March, it denied Tribune’s request for an exemption to the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule in Fort Lauderdale, where Tribune now owns both a newspaper and a TV station. Tribune has taken the FCC decision to federal court.

Another factor working against media deregulation is the bottleneck developing between the White House and Congress over appointments to the FCC. The Clinton administration has not officially told the Senate who its nominees are for the two vacancies at the agency. Now Washington lobbyists are hearing rumors that FCC chairman Reed Hundt may resign this summer. If Hundt does resign, any large decision, such as media deregulation, could be put off for at least six months.

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