I'd like to know more about Federal Communications Commission head Kevin Martin's game plan. If he's intent on benefiting companies that publish newspapers and operate TV stations, he's going about it in a strange way. And if he's seeking to protect the public, I'm confused there, too.
For three decades, the FCC has enforced "cross-ownership" laws. With exceptions, they prevent newspapers and television stations in the same city from being owned jointly. For the past several years, with papers and broadcasters both struggling as more of their advertising revenues migrate online to the likes of Google
And indeed, Martin has now proposed changes that would allow companies to own a newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same market. However, there are rubs:
- The loosening of the regulations is limited to the top 20 markets.
- The markets involved must include at least eight other "media voices," television stations and newspapers included.
- A TV station receiving an exemption can't be one of the four largest in its market.
Although these changes would help Tribune
And other companies would be affected even more harshly. For instance, Media General
Even News Corp.
It's hard to see much benefit coming from this proposal with its current conditions tacked on, particularly with newspapers and broadcast facilities becoming more deflated by the month. The cynical side of me believes that Martin's latest efforts will benefit investment bankers and consultants the most thanks to big fees from the rash of media trades this latest proposal would probably necessitate. On that basis, I wonder what harm could come from a total revocation of the cross-ownership laws?
Oh, I get it. By dumping the laws, Martin, who's also circling the cable operators with a regulatory gleam in his eye, just might do himself out of a job.
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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own a share in any of the companies mentioned. Each day, he glories that his local newspaper is still being printed. He welcomes your questions or comments. The Fool has a well-read disclosure policy.