FCC Chairman Martin: Repeal of Cross-Ownership Ban Overdue

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin told publishers at the Newspaper Association of America’s (NAA) annual meeting today that he?s committed to overturning the ban on same-market cross-ownership, but that newspapers need to do a better job of selling repeal.

After excoriating the commission for failing since 1996 to back up its repeal rhetoric with action, he said newspapers must ?educate the public about the changing media landscape,? and the benefits of ending the 31-year-old ban on same-market ownership of newspaper and broadcast stations.

?The failure to implement these rule changes is not our fault alone,? Martin said at the meeting in the McCormick Place convention center. ?The public is not convinced of the need to change these rules, and if you can?t convince the public, our chances to do that are dim.?

In 2003, the FCC overturned the cross-ownership ban in a sweeping rewrite of ownership rules. Implementation of repeal was blocked by a U.S. appellate court.

Martin, a Republican who was appointed to the commission in 2001 and became its chairman last year, made clear that he shared the newspaper industry?s opposition to the cross-ownership ban imposed in 1975.

?A lot has changed since those days of disco and leisure suits,? he said. He noted there was no Internet, cable television household penetration was barely 15%, and there were only about half the 1,750 TV stations operating now.

He noted pointedly that while other media has exploded in the past quarter-century, there are now some 300 fewer daily newspapers. The cross-ownership ban has ?adversely impacted? the quantity and quality of local news reports, Martin said.

He argued the continued ban was unfair in light of the relaxed ownership rules allowing TV station owners to operate television duopolies and to own as many as six radio stations.

?Newspapers are the only medium specifically prohibited from owning a single broadcast station in its own market,? he added.

Martin said he hoped to begin work on the repeal this summer, but that no decision had yet been made on whether it would be part of a wider rules change.

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