Martin aims to ease media ownership

FCC chief to propose repealing old limits

October 18, 2007|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The head of the Federal Communications Commission has circulated an ambitious plan to relax the decades-old media ownership rules, including repealing a rule that generally forbids a company to own both a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same city.

Kevin J. Martin, chairman of the commission, wants to repeal the rule in the next two months - a plan that, if successful, would be a big victory for some executives of media conglomerates.

Among them are Samuel Zell, the Chicago investor who is seeking to complete a buyout of the Tribune Co., owner of The Sun, and Rupert Murdoch, who has lobbied against the rule for years so that he can continue controlling both the New York Post and a Fox television station in New York.

The proposal appears to have the support of the Republican majority on the five commission, although it is not clear that Martin would proceed with a sweeping deregulatory approach on a vote of 3-2 - something his predecessor tried without success.

In interviews yesterday, the agency's two Democratic members raised questions about Martin's approach.

Martin said he was striving to reach a consensus with his fellow commissioners.

"We've had six hearings around the country already, we've done numerous studies, we've been collecting data for the last 18 months and the issues have been pending for years," Martin said in an interview.

"I think it is an appropriate time to begin a discussion to complete this rule-making and complete these media ownership issues."

Officials said that the FCC would consider loosening the restrictions on the number of radio and television stations that any company can own in one city.

Currently, a company can own two television stations in the larger markets only if at least one is not among the four largest stations and if there are at least eight local stations. The rules also limit the number of radio stations that a company can own to no more than eight in each of the largest markets.

Three years ago, the commission lost a major court challenge to its last effort to relax the media ownership rules.The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Philadelphia, concluded that the commission had failed to adequately justify the new rules.

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