No Surprise To Newspapers p.15

By: MARK FITZGERALD IN A LETTER to the Federal Communications Commission, the Clinton
administration formally opposed easing the "duopoly" rule against owning more than one TV station in a market ? an action that likely portends a similar stance against newspaper/broadcasting cross-ownership restrictions.
The White House stance came as no real surprise to the newspaper industry. Administration officials for several months have informally signaled their opposition to loosening television ownership rules or the newspaper cross-ownership restriction.
In its May 22 letter to FCC chairman Reed E. Hundt, the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration urged the commission to slow down the swift liberalization of broadcast media regulations that followed enactment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Larry Irving, the assistant secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, argues that loosening the TV duopoly rule will lead to an increasing concentration of ownership ? which he said has already happened with the liberalization of rules governing ownership of multiple radio stations in a community.
Irving notes that in New York City Westinghouse now owns the only two all-news radio stations, and that in Washington, fully 18 of the 22 top-rated commercial radio stations are owned by just four companies.
"This pattern in local radio ownership is likely a harbinger of concentration levels to come in local television markets if the commission proceeds with its proposals to relax local ownership rules," Irving wrote.
Commerce also argues that loosening ownership restraints will harm minority ownership of television stations "below the meager levels that already exist."
Relaxing the rules, the department argues, will benefit those with access to capital ? further squeezing out would-be minority owners.
To the newspaper industry, these are familiar ? and largely theoretical ? arguments. Like it or not, industry figures say, the market encourages media of all types to concentrate, and there is no reason that owning a printing press should preclude newspaper companies from jumping into the fray.
The Newspaper Association of America, for instance, has its own petition in front of the FCC, arguing that "today's multichannel, multimedia environment
. . . offer consumers abundant and diverse information options."
Cross-ownership restrictions, the NAA maintains, are based on "speculative assumptions" about media diversity that are undercut by the record of grandfathered cross-ownership situations which have not been anti-competitive.
"I think what we're seeing is theoretical objections by [the Clinton administration] . . . while the real market goes on," NAA president and chief executive officer John Sturm said in reaction to the White House stand on the duopoly rule.

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?copyright: Editor & Publisher May 31, 1997


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