Media cross-ownership ban restored

By Associated Press
July 8, 2011

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WASHINGTON - A federal Appeals Court has restored a long-standing ban that prevents media companies from owning both a newspaper and a television station in the same market.

The 3d US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said yesterday that the Federal Communications Commission didn’t give the public adequate opportunity to comment on new rules that lifted the ban in the 20 largest media markets. The Appeals Court sent the rules back to the FCC to be rewritten.

The so-called cross-ownership ban dates back to 1975 - a time when newspapers dominated the media industry.

In 2007, then-FCC chairman Kevin Martin, a Bush administration appointee, moved to ease those restrictions in the biggest media markets. He argued that the ban no longer made sense in a media landscape where the Internet had left many daily newspapers struggling for survival.

Public interest groups challenged the changes and warned that too many media outlets falling under the ownership of a handful of large corporations could be detrimental to democracy, which relies on a vibrant press with many voices.

The decision is a setback for media conglomerates, which argue that consumers have more sources of information than ever in an age of 24-hour cable television and an endless supply of online news outlets.

The FCC’s media ownership rules, which exist to ensure that communities have choices for local news, include limits on the number of television and radio stations that one company can own in a market and cross-ownership restrictions.

Holdings in some markets, such as Chicago, where Tribune Co. owns WGN radio and TV and the Chicago Tribune, are grandfathered in.

Congress requires the FCC to review its media ownership rules every four years. Yesterday’s ruling comes as the current FCC, now under Democratic control, is seeking to wrap up its latest review, which began last year.