Get ORWELL on the PHONE: FCC's Kevin Martin Threatening Media Ownership Overhaul by Year's End

Remember summer 2003, friends?

When the FCC issued its June 2, 2003 decision that would have made it possible for one media corporation to own as many as 8 radio stations, 3 TV stations, the cable franchise, and the daily newspaper all in one "market"?

Guess what? They're back. Or rather, the idea is back.

See this - USA TODAY article.

FCC urged to go slow on media ownership overhaul

By Paul Davidson, USA TODAY
Two senators Thursday urged the Federal Communications Commission not to "rush forward" with an overhaul of media ownership limits by year's end.
In a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., said, "We strongly encourage you to slow down and proceed with caution."

The jousting suggests a second attempt by the Republican-majority FCC to let the nation's media giants grow larger could provoke a political firestorm similar to the one set off by the first effort in 2003. A court overturned the FCC's action the next year.

Martin has told the four other FCC commissioners that he wants to propose revised ownership rules by Nov. 13, provide a 30-day period for public comment and vote on Dec. 18.

In a phone interview, FCC Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps said that allowing the public to comment on specific proposed rules before a vote takes place represents "progress" over the 2003 proceeding.

But he said the 30-day comment period is insufficient. And Copps, Dorgan and Lott say the FCC should not vote until it completes a separate study of the amount of local news and public affairs programs on television. Public-interest advocates say consolidation that puts media outlets in the hands of fewer owners decreases local programming.

Tamara Lipper, a spokeswoman for Martin, disputed claims that a vote is being hurried. She said the FCC launched the ownership review 18 months ago, has held five of six planned public hearings and completed 10 media ownership studies.

One rule likely to be eased bars a company from owning both a newspaper and TV or radio station in the same market. A U.S. appeals court in 2004 said a blanket cross-ownership ban is not necessary. Yet, the judges rejected the FCC's sweeping overhaul of media limits, saying it had not justified the changes.

The cross-ownership ban is standing in the way of Chicago investor Sam Zell's proposed $8.2 billion purchase of Tribune Co. Tribune, under loopholes in the rules, owns both newspapers and TV stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Hartford, Conn., and South Florida. It must get a waiver or rule change to complete the sale by year's end.

In a 2005 interview with USA TODAY, Martin said the agency could ease the cross-ownership limit in big cities with many media outlets. The FCC, he said, also could repeal the rule in some small markets where mergers would "increase the amount of news coverage or maintain failing stations or newspapers."

Research firm Stifel Nicolaus (SF) said in a report Thursday that opposition within the FCC and from Congress could persuade Martin to slow the media review and "moderate" any relaxation. While Martin can likely muster votes from his two fellow Republicans on the five-member commission, he would prefer to win support from at least one of the two Democrats, the report said.