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THE Federal Communications Commission must take a cold, hard look at the consolidation of media ownership.

Allowing the Gannett Co. to acquire Belo for $2.2 billion — making it the fourth-largest owner of major network affiliates and the largest operator in the top 25 markets — is bad policy.

Gannett, already the nation’s largest newspaper owner by circulation, will jump from ownership of 23 stations to 43. Cramming KING 5 (a Seattle Times news partner), Northwest Cable News and news stations in Spokane and Portland into that corporate template is a threat to quality journalism.

The FCC is essentially being slapped in the face with a challenge. Gannett would own the newspaper and TV outlets in Louisville, Ky., and Phoenix, Ariz. That violates FCC rules.

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Craig Aaron, president of media watchdog Free Press, bluntly states media consolidation means fewer journalists and less diversity on the public airwaves.

He wants the FCC also to investigate covert consolidation by shared service agreements that create one newsroom to serve supposedly independent TV stations.

Industry optimists see consolidation providing economic stability in hard times and the resources to provide in-depth journalism. The reality is fewer journalists in smaller newsrooms.

Aaron sees the nation on a path toward a handful of companies owning and operating all the television stations in the country.

Media General’s merger with Young Broadcasting will result in one company with 30 television stations in 27 markets. Last spring, Sinclair Broadcast Group bought Fisher Communications, owner of KOMO 4 in Seattle, and 19 other West Coast stations.

The Gannett deal is a direct assault on local, independent voices. Recall the Bullitt family legacy during its ownership of KING.

Does the FCC have a pulse under the Obama administration? The Gannett purchase provides a flagrant challenge to strike back against media consolidation.

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