WASHINGTON - The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to eliminate a ban on radio and television broadcasters owning newspapers, but only in the nation's largest media markets, including Seattle.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin opted to focus on the newspaper ban only and declined to act on other media-ownership rules up for consideration. The proposal requires a full vote of the commission to be adopted.
"I think this is both a moderate and a fair proposal," Martin said Tuesday. He said he is optimistic there will be a vote Dec. 18. There are five members on the commission, two Democrats and three Republicans, including Martin.
Talk of lifting the cross-ownership ban has met stiff resistance from public-interest groups and commission Democrats, and on Capitol Hill.
Martin decided not to pursue complete removal of the ban. Under his proposal, one entity would be permitted to own a newspaper and one radio station or television station, but only if it is in one of the 20 largest markets in the nation. After the transaction, at least eight independently owned-and-operated media voices must remain in the market, and the television station may not be among the market's top four.
The companies involved also would have to show that the combined entity would increase the amount of local news in the market and that both outlets would continue to exercise independent news judgment.
As the nation's 14th-largest market, Seattle would be one of the places in which newspaper-TV combinations clearly would be allowed with FCC approval.
Martin's proposal apparently would bar the Seattle Times Co. and The Hearst Corp., owner of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, from acquiring any of the four largest television stations: KOMO, KING, KIRO or KCPQ. The owners of those stations - all major network affiliates - would be prohibited from buying one of the newspapers.
Hearst, based in New York, owns 26 television stations elsewhere. In addition to their television holdings, the owners of KING (Belo of Dallas), KIRO (Cox Enterprises of Atlanta) and KCPQ (Tribune Co. of Chicago) also publish newspapers in other cities.
None of the smaller TV stations in the market is owned by a company that also publishes newspapers.
Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen, an outspoken opponent of more consolidation, labeled Martin's proposal "unconscionable" and contrary to the public interest. While it may not be as sweeping a revision as many had anticipated, "to do some damage instead of a lot of damage doesn't make it right," he added.
There are loopholes in Martin's proposal that could allow broader cross-ownership than the chairman contends, Blethen said.
Martin announced his proposal days after a nine-hour FCC hearing Friday in Seattle on media ownership, attended by more than 1,000 people. All but a handful of speakers opposed looser cross-ownership rules.
On its Web site Tuesday, Reclaim the Media, a Seattle group that recruited many to attend the hearing, said Martin's proposal "flies in the face of overwhelming public opposition to weakening the cross-ownership rule." Martin's plan also demonstrates the Seattle hearing was "window-dressing, rather than ... actual public process," the group said.
Blethen agreed. "It's clear he [Martin] dumped all over our governor and our attorney general and everyone else who was there," he said. "He couldn't care less what they think."
Gov. Christine Gregoire and Attorney General Rob McKenna were among those testifying at the hearing.
Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat who has fought liberalization of media rules since his appointment, said Martin's proposal is much more far-reaching than he is portraying. "This is not, to my way of looking, a very modest proposal," Copps said. "I think it could do considerable damage."
Martin cited a changing media marketplace for his decision to loosen the 32-year-old ban, noting that when it was created, cable television was in a nascent stage, and neither direct broadcast satellite television nor the Internet existed.
Removal of the ban has been a top priority for Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and 23 television stations. The Tribune Co. is the subject of an $8.2 billion buyout that would take the company private. Martin's proposal would provide relief in four of the five markets where Tribune owns broadcast stations and newspapers.
Seattle Times staff reporter Eric Pryne contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company