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FCC Chairman Proposes Retaining Most Media Ownership Restrictions

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is proposing that the agency retain most of the restrictions on common ownership of TV stations, radio outlets and newspapers in the same market.

Wheeler circulated a proposal to commissioners on Monday that make only modest modifications to ownership restrictions.

Under one proposal, an existing ban on ownership of a broadcast station and newspaper in the same market would remain in place, but would be subject to exceptions “for failed or failing entities,” according to the FCC. The current rules already allow for waivers.

“Our analysis indicates that the ownership restrictions remain necessary in the public interest, though the realities of the media marketplace require some targeted modifications of a number of the rules,” the FCC said in a fact sheet outlining the changes.

The FCC’s current TV cross-ownership rule allows for the common ownership of a station in the same market, but only if just one of the stations are among the top four stations in that city, and that at least eight independently owned stations remained after the merger.

The current radio and TV cross-ownership rule allows for common ownership of two TV stations and one radio station, regardless of the side of the market. The rule allows for the common ownership of additional radio stations based on how many independently owned outlets would remain after such a merger.

Unchanged is a rule that prohibits the merger of any of the four broadcast networks.

The FCC is required to review its ownership rules ever four years, but fell behind to the point that the 2010 and 2014 reviews were combined. The full commission will vote whether to approve the modifications.

In May, a federal appeals court struck down FCC rules restricting joint sales agreements between TV stations because the agency had yet to complete the 2010 and 2014 reviews. Wheeler is now seeking to have those restrictions reinstated.

The Newspaper Assn. of America has long sought to repeal the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule, put in place in 1975, arguing that such combinations are needed given the decline of print media.

Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Assn. of Broadcasters, said that the ownership rules in general have “long ago outlived their usefulness.”

“It is shocking that regulators who bless mammoth mergers like AT&T/DirecTV and Charter/Time Warner Cable would still bar common ownership of two TV stations or broadcast/newspaper combinations in a local market,” he said in a statement. “Ultimately, NAB hopes the five-member FCC, Congress or the courts end this indefensible FCC charade, and that meaningful ownership reform is adopted for the benefit of the millions of Americans reliant on free and local broadcasting.”

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