Media Ownership Vote Postponed Pending Completion of Study

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By Paul Barbagallo  

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski announced late Feb. 26 that he will postpone a vote on changes to the agency's media ownership rules to allow time for an independent study on the effects of cross-ownership on minorities and newsgathering.

The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council will conduct the study, which is expected to take “several weeks,” Genachowski said. After the study is completed, the FCC will solicit public input and cast a final vote, he said.

“In this heavily-litigated area where a strong record is particularly important, I believe this is a sensible approach to moving forward and resolving the issues raised in this proceeding,” the chairman said in a statement posted to the agency's web site.

Among the changes proposed to the media-ownership rules by Genachowski is the elimination of a decades-old ban on one company owning a newspaper and a broadcast television station in the same market. If given final approval by the majority of FCC commissioners, there would be a presumption that in the 20 largest U.S. markets, such cross-ownership is in the public interest if a “diversity of information sources” remains and if the TV station involved is not one of the four top stations in the market.

Another Genachowski proposal would remove the bar on cross-ownership of radio stations and newspapers.

The Newspaper Association of America and the National Association of Broadcasters have supported lifting the ban, arguing that the internet, as well as cable and satellite TV channels, has made the FCC's cross-ownership rule irrelevant. In response to the release of the notice of proposed rulemaking more than a year ago, the NAB has suggested that lifting the ban could even save journalism jobs.

“Circulation of the proposed order has led to healthy discussions among commissioners and stakeholders about the substance of the issues and the state of the record before the agency,” Genachowski said. “The study…addresses an issue of importance, will augment the record, and will assist the commission in resolving the issues before it on the full record.”

The proposed rules stem from the commission's 2010 quadrennial media ownership review, which was supposed to be completed in 2010 but stalled as the FCC awaited a court ruling on the issue.

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