In advance of its upcoming biannual review of media ownership rules, the Federal Communications Commission is holding a series of workshops on the issue. These workshops are less formal and expansive than hearings, and tend to be focused on a smaller array of topics.
On April 20 the Commission’s Media Bureau will host a panel on “benefits and harms of newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership and the impact these combinations have on competition and diversity in the media marketplace” [PDF announcement]. The primary concern is with TV-newspaper cross-ownership because it’s more restricted by the FCC than radio cross-ownership, and because TV and newspapers are significant sources of local news. However, radio is still a source of news and public affairs programming, and so newspaper-radio combinations will also be discussed in the panel.
Currently bankrupt Tribune company–headed by former Clear Channel CEO Randy Michaels–has been one of the most prominent supporters of loosening or eliminating restrictions on television-newspaper cross-ownership. In fact, the company was so confident that the Bush-era FCC would undo cross-ownership rules that it went on a massive debt-leveraged buying spree, snatching up newspapers and broadcast stations. Only the changes didn’t quite pan out, and so the heavily indebted company was bought out and saddled with even more debt by real estate tycoon Sam Zell. Now companies like Tribune are crying that eliminating the few remaining ownership regulations are the only way to save the broadcast and newspaper businesses.
I predict we’ll hear that argument raised at the Tampa workshop, along with the media reform argument that maybe the newspaper and broadcast businesses wouldn’t be in such rotten shape if the largest companies hadn’t gone on a credit-fueled shopping spree.
With the national broadband plan taking center stage right now, I don’t expect we’ll see much major action on media ownership from the Commission too soon. But since Tribune, Clear Channel and their indebted brethren will be pushing hard to eliminate even the few remaining constraints on radio ownership, we’ll be sure to cover it here at RadioSurvivor.
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