During its regularly monthly meeting, the FCC approved the new rule that focuses only on media business in the top 20 markets. It allows poorly performing TV stations--not among the top-three highest-rated outlets--to be merged or bought with a newspaper company in that market.
With certain exceptions, it would also allow newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership in smaller markets, provided that at least seven hours of local news is added to a station that did not previously have it. In addition, a merger could happen if the station or newspaper is in financial distress.
FCC chairman Kevin Martin has said all this is necessary to ensure that many diverse "voices" and station competition are maintained in many markets.
Still, opponents--such as dissenting FCC commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat appointee--say this is a precursor to allowing more media consolidation. Already, presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has expressed his concern: "Today, the FCC failed to further the important goal of promoting diversity in the media and instead chose to put big corporate interests ahead of the people's interests," he said in a statement.
"Minority-owned and operated newspapers and radio stations play a critical role in African-American and Latino communities and help to bring minority issues to the forefront of our national dialogue. We must ensure that we have an open media market that represents all of the voices in our diverse nation and allows them to be heard."
Separately, the FCC also ushered in the cable cap rule, as expected--that no cable company in the U.S. can cover more than 30% of U.S. TV households. Comcast, the biggest U.S. cable company, has systems representing 27% of all TV homes. The cable industry is expected to appeal the rule.
In another new rule that was approved, the FCC also voted to require TV stations to set create permanent community boards to advise them on local programming to be aired.
The FCC also decided not to rule on whether to force broadcasters to identify product placement paid by marketers. Public-interest groups have said the activity misleads viewers.
Some late campaigning by the three main advertising industry associations asked the federal agency to first do an intensive fact-finding mission to decide if there is a problem.