House Bill Would Ease Broadcast, Newspaper Ownership Restriction


Lawmakers are already signaling some deregulatory changes they hope to make to the media landscape, even before the GOP takes control of the White House.

Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee,  introduced a bill Dec. 7 that would eliminate a ban on a single entity owning both a broadcast station and a daily newspaper in the same market. Walden called the ban on such cross-ownership, enacted in 1975, a “relic of the disco era” ill-suited to a struggling media industry.

Democratic co-sponsor John Yarmuth (Ky.) tied the bill to the rise of so-called “fake news”—a blend of embellishment, conspiracy theory and outright fabrication—that dominated the presidential election cycle. It’s “increasingly important,” Yarmuth said, “to protect legitimate sources of news” by giving smaller outlets an infusion of resources that can come with new ownership.

With just a few days expected to remain in the legislative calendar, the bill stands virtually no chance of advancing before Congress adjourns. Still, the bill represents a marker by Walden for next year.

The Federal Communications Commission is already widely expected to loosen media ownership restrictions, with or without a congressional mandate, once the GOP takes the reins of the agency. Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly were harsh critics of the FCC’s 2016 decision to leave ownership limits largely intact. In comments delivered at a Dec. 7 Washington, D.C., event, O’Rielly named revisiting those limits as one of his priorities once Republicans gain majority control of the FCC.

Media industry groups were quick to applaud the bill. National Association of Broadcasters President and CEO Gordon Smith said ending the cross-ownership ban “would save journalism jobs, create more investigative reporting and provide communities with greater local news.” Ending the ban would also allow traditional media outlets to better compete with online news, David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, said in a statement.

Supporters of current limits say they’re vital to preserving localism, diversity and editorial independence at local news outlets.