The FCC may allow the media landscape in top-20 markets to resemble the one in New York City — where media mogul Rupert Murdoch is permitted to own television stations and newspapers.
The internet has been abuzz for the past month with news that FCC chairman Julius Genachowski circulated a plan to his fellow FCC commissioners to strike down the long-standing regulation preventing media entities from cross-owning newspapers, radio and television stations in the same market.
Genachowski’s plan suggests that the commission vote to “streamline and modernize media ownership rules, including eliminating outdated prohibitions on newspaper-radio and TV-radio cross ownership.”
Those living in New York City might be under the impression that media conglomerates are already permitted to cross-own. Murdoch’s News Corporation owns the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal and the local television stations WNYW (channel 5) and the New Jersey-based WWOR (channel 9).
That’s because the FCC granted Murdoch a permanent waiver in 1993 to operate the Post in the Metropolitan Area along with his television stations. Prior to that, News Corp. was forced to sell the Post after a temporary waiver from the FCC to cross-own expired.
The FCC ultimately decided to issue News Corp. a permanent waiver to operate TV and print news media in our market — citing the job-loss that would result from the paper closing. Since then, Murdoch has padded his impressive New York portfolio with his 2007 acquisition of the Wall Street Journal — the number one circulated newspaper in the U.S.
He is currently rumored to be pushing hard to acquire the Chicago Tribune and the L.A. Times, but will only be able to do so if the newspaper-TV cross-ownership ban is lifted.
Those who support removing the ban say broadcast companies can help save struggling newspapers from going under and thereby preserve the role papers play in keeping the public informed. Former FCC chairman and commissioner, Michael Copps, thinks otherwise.
“Perhaps they think that allowing some of these consolidations are good because some news is better than no news. But you have to realize that every time you approve one of these newspaper-broadcast cross-ownerships or radio-TV ownerships, you’re losing a voice,” Copps told Democracy Now!. “You’re losing a voice in the locality. You’re losing diversity, you’re encouraging homogenized programming, homogenized news [and] homogenized music.”
The FCC has been trying to lift this ban for over a decade, first in 2003 and again in 2007. The commission ruled in favor of lifting the ban in 2007, but last year the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck it down — citing the FCC’s failure to cite the impact it could have on minority and female ownership opportunities.
Copps, who served as an FCC Commissioner until 2011, initially thought the FCC under President Barack Obama’s administration would work to reduce the concentration of ownership in the media. To his surprise, Obama’s hand-picked chairman and friend, Genachowski, is leading the charge in the continuation of the Bush-era fight to loosen regulations.
Perhaps this isn’t terribly surprising news — considering that the initiative is being pushed by Genachowski, the same guy responsible for creating the Fox Broadcasting Company as an executive at News Corp.
The FCC commissioners were originally expected to vote on the measure at the end of November or some time this month. With mounting public pressure, the FCC will likely delay its vote until next year.
Last week media watchdog group, Free Press, delivered more than 200,000 signatures to FCC headquarters protesting the impending vote to lift the ban. And, 13 senators and over 40 members of Congress have also written letters to the FCC urging the commissioners not to remove the restriction.
Copps says the long trend towards deregulation will not only affect more traditional forms of media, but the Internet as well.
“We’re talking about the fate the new media too, the media of the internet, which is showing very definite signs, I think, of traveling down the same road that every other communications infrastructure has traveled down over the generations,” Copps said. “Towards more consolidation controlled by a few, towards rising prices, towards toll booths and gate keepers… I think that would be a tragedy of historical proportions.”