RELAXING long-standing restrictions on cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast outlets is a bad idea. Apparently, it cannot be said often enough.
The chairman of Federal Communications Commission was flirting with a quick, quiet vote to undo a 37-year-old rule that prevents newspapers, radio and TV stations from falling under one owner in the same market.
The FCC has tried before. The responses from the courts and members of Congress have been, appropriately so, an eye roll and a finger wag.
Rules to limit media cross-ownership are in place to protect the public’s interest in vigorous journalism, independent voices and diverse ownership.
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The smoke still billows off a November letter from Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. The senator was incensed by FCC chatter about liberating cross-ownership to end outdated prohibitions.
“These rules were put in place and have remained in place because they support diversity, competition, and localism in the public interest,” the senator wrote.
Even with the rules in place, Cantwell noted, the FCC’s own report “shows the appallingly low level of ownership of broadcast media outlets by women and minorities.”
Cantwell and other Democrats subsequently repeated their disappointment and frustrations in Capitol Hill news conferences. Those attending included Washington Sen. Patty Murray and Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.
The FCC set aside plans for a vote, and said it will accept more public comment, and perhaps vote, in January.
The rationales for change will not improve. Cantwell skewers the notion that changing cross-ownership rules will save the newspaper industry:
“It will, though, diminish the diversity of local media ownership and consequently the diversity of local views, viewpoints and opinions.”