FCC reviews rules

B'caster hopes deflated by diversity mandate

WASHINGTON — The FCC launched a review of its media ownership rules Thursday, but comments by a majority of commissioners leave little hope for broadcasters looking for relaxation of current ownership limits.

Four of the five commissioners encouraged staffers to make a thorough review of the ownership rules, but warned that the Federal Communication Commission’s obligation to promote a diversity of voices in the marketplace appears to run counter to relaxing the rules further.

FCC chairman Bill Kennard said Thursday that the agency had “twin goals” of promoting competition and diversity. And again he expressed his concern about the current pace of media mergers. “Consolidation is proceeding at the most dramatic pace we have ever seen in the broadcasting industry,” said Kennard.

Among the rules that are on the table are:

– The ban on owning more than one TV station in a market;

– The ban on owning a newspaper and TV station in a market;

– The ban on owning a TV station and a cable system in the same market;

– The UHF discount which gives a owners of UHF stations a 50% discount when counting the number of households in a market. Many station owners depend on the discount to comply with the 35% national audience limit.

Among those who could be the most directly affected by the ownership proceedings is Tribune Broadcasting, which wants the FCC to throw out the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule. Tribune is currently fighting to hold on to WDZL TV Miami and the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel. Tribune acquired WDZL through last year’s acquisition of Renaissance Communications.

Also watching the proceedings closely will be Fox Television Stations and Paxson Communications, which depend on the UHF discount to meet the 35% national cap. Mass Media bureau chief Roy Stewart said Thursday that if the FCC decides to end the UHF discount, it will have to consider grandfathering current broadcasters holdings. Agency staffers don’t expect to complete their review until early next fall.

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