By: Todd Shields

Republican Majority Likely To Act

Repeal as well as reform will be on the table when federal
officials take up a rule that bars cross-ownership of newspapers
and broadcast stations, the nation’s top telecommunications
regulator said Thursday. Federal Communications Commission
Chairman Michael Powell, speaking in a question-and-answer
session with journalists, indicated that he may favor repealing
the rule. “I make no secret: This rule in particular, I’m
skeptical,” Powell said at FCC headquarters in Washington.

Just last week, Powell told Congress the FCC would begin a review
of the rule in May. The regulation, put in place in 1975, bars
common ownership of a newspaper and a broadcast station in a
single market. It aims to ensure a diversity of voices.

Some newspaper-television combinations that exist today were
formed before the rule and were allowed to continue. Other
newspaper-television combinations arise from recent acquisitions
by newspaper companies, and represent a bet by the companies that
the cross-ownership rule will change before the television
station license is due for renewal.

The FCC last year, when it had a Democratic majority, pledged to
review the rule but did not act. The commission said it wanted to
examine whether the rule should be reformed, perhaps by allowing
exceptions in large markets with many television stations. Powell
said the commission is free to examine both reform and repeal,
and would do so.

The five-member commission is undergoing a transition to a
Republican majority. Its Democratic chairman stepped down in
January as administrations changed, and President Bush named
Powell as chairman. With one seat vacant, the commission is
currently split between Democrats and Republicans. Powell said he
hoped the opening would be filled by late spring, an event that
would create a Republican majority.

Asked whether repeal is a likely outcome for the cross-ownership
review, he replied, “You tell me who the commission is.”

Todd Shields (tshields@editorandpublisher.com) is the Washington editor for E&P.

Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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