The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission wants an agency decision by year-end on whether to ease limits on how many media outlets...

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WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission chairman wants an agency decision by year-end on whether to ease limits on how many media outlets a company can own in a market, an FCC source said Thursday.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is circulating a proposed schedule among four other commissioners that calls for public hearings in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 31 and in Seattle on Nov. 2, followed by publication of the proposed rule Nov. 13 and a commission vote Dec. 18, the source said.

Martin’s timetable raised concerns among Democrats at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday. Chairman Daniel Inouye, of Hawaii, said he would hold a hearing soon.

Long-standing FCC rules restrict media cross-ownership and ban ownership of a newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same market, unless the FCC grants a waiver.

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If these limits were eased or lifted, it could help investors such as real-estate tycoon Sam Zell, who is leading a proposed leveraged buyout of media group Tribune Co. and wants it to be able to cross-own daily newspapers and broadcast outlets in some markets.

Consumer groups and Democrats on the commission have reservations about easing the rules, fearing further consolidation in the industry would snuff out independent voices and degrade local news. Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen has been an outspoken supporter of ownership limits.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has called for examination of whether News Corp.’s proposed buyout of Wall Street Journal owner Dow Jones would run afoul of ownership rules. Martin has said previously he expected the cross-ownership ban to be lifted but has declined to predict where limits would be drawn.

Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein did not object specifically to the Dec. 18 date but said the commission has a lot of other work to do.

“We need to deal with some long-neglected issues before we tackle the media-ownership rules,” he said. “We should first address the appalling lack of ownership of media outlets by women and people of color. And we need to implement improvements in how outlets handle issues of concern to local communities.”

The FCC in 2003 tried to lift the common-ownership ban and permit companies to own more TV stations in a market. An appeals court in 2004 sent the agency back to the drawing board, ruling limits were not justified.

At a congressional hearing Wednesday, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said that one month for the public to consider the rule is not enough time. He also is calling for hearings before the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee.

Combined from Reuters, The Associated Press and Seattle Times staff

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