A Chairman's Prerogative: The Media Ownership Surge

Not one to leave something unsaid, but last year - a few weeks ago - FCC Chairman Kevin Martin pushed through a last-minute vote along party lines (3 Republicans vs. 2 Democrats) to loosen cross--media ownership restrictions by increasing the number of entities (TV stations, newspapers and radio stations) that media companies could own in a given market to provide financial security to media corporations while sacrificing American troops -- I'm sorry, I didn't mean American troops -- while sacrificing the number of editorial and creative voices in a designated marketing area: Key tenets for newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership transaction approval:

  • The properties are in one of the 20 largest DMAs

  • The transaction involves a major daily newspaper and one TV or radio station

  • If the transaction involves a TV, at least eight independently owned and operating major media voices would remain in the DMA following the transaction

  • IIf the transaction involves a TV station, that station is not among the top four ranked stations in the DMA



  • Newspaper-broadcast combinations would be permitted in smaller markets so long as the TV stations air at least seven hours of local news or if the station or newspaper is in financial distress

  • A case-by-case consideration of newspaper-broadcast mergers that don't meet his criteria

  • The continuation of 42 newspaper/broadcast combinations already in existence because of waivers or exceptions.

    "The New Way Forward" strategy is reminiscent to me of other regulatory forays. Hasn't the media community already experienced the benefit of the consolidation in the radio sector, when station groups could own the "8's" number of radio stations in a market, which helped to accelerate the utilization of "canned" voices instead of the nurturing of local talent; and advertisers and their ad agencies were bullied into purchasing across the station group's stations and markets in order to get their commercial messages on the air - and at exorbitant pricing increases. How about the benefits to the syndication marketplace as the FCC eclipsed the Primetime Access and Fin-Syn Rules, helping to diminish diversity of voices, stifle originality and place scarce programmable berths in the hands of the media behemoths who dominated the airwaves.

    According to published reports, one fourth of the U.S. Senate pledged to work towards nullifying the chairman's surge. I hope they have better success than Congress' progress in dealing with the President's.

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