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FCC Plan Would Ease Regulations on Media Owners

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has circulated a plan to relax media ownership rules, including repealing a rule that forbids a company to own both a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same city.
Kevin Martin, chairman of the commission, wants to repeal the rule in the next two months. The proposal would allow for public comment on the proposed regulations in mid-November and a commission vote on Dec. 18.
If successful, the plan would be a big victory for some executives of media conglomerates.
Among them are Samuel Zell, the Chicago investor who is looking to complete a buyout of the Tribune Company, and Rupert Murdoch, who has lobbied against the rules for years in order to continue controlling both The New York Post and a Fox television station in New York.
Agency officials said the proposal seems to have the support of a majority of the five commission members, although it is not certain that Martin would proceed with a deregulatory approach on a vote of 3-to-2, which his predecessor tried without success.
According to officials, the commission would consider loosening the restrictions on the number of radio and television stations a company could own in the same city.
Right now, a company can own two television stations in the larger markets only if at least one is not among the four largest stations and if there are at least eight local stations. The rules also limit the number of radio stations that a company can own to no more than eight in each of the largest markets.
According to The Associated Press, Martin confirmed the details of his proposal in an interview with them Wednesday. The plan he is considering is “far more open and involves far more public input than the process followed by then-Chairman Michael Powell in 2003, Martin said.�
But media consolidation opponents said Wednesday that the chairman may be acting too fast.
A previous attempt to loosen ownership rules in 2003, in which Martin was in the majority, ended in a 3-to-2 vote, but the decision was invalidated by a federal appeals court. The New York Times says the court decided that the commission had failed to adequately justify the new regulations.
There was intense criticism from both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill and a public outcry after the 2003 decision.
According to The New York Times, the deregulatory proposal is likely to put the agency once again at the center of a debate between the media companies, which view the rules as “anachronistic,� and civil rights, labor, religious and other groups that maintain the government that argue the government has let media conglomerates grow too large.
The New York Times also reports that industry executives had not expected the agency to move forth with proposals again so soon.
The proposed schedule calls for a public hearing in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 31; another hearing on Nov. 2 in Seattle; publication of the proposed rule on Nov. 13; and a commission vote on Dec. 18.

The New York Times:

The Associated Press: