The Federal Communications Commission approved new rules that will unleash a flood of media consolidation across 20 biggest U.S. cities, in spite of objections from consumer groups and threats from some U.S. senators.
The FCC voted 3-2, along party lines, overturning a 32-year-old ban on ownership of a newspaper and broadcast outlet in a single market. The original rule was intended to foster competition and ensure a diversity of media voices.
Chairman Kevin Martin and the other two Republicans on the five-member panel backed the modification but exempted 36 newspaper-broadcast ownership combinations and also gave exemptions to six combinations that were pending for consideration by the Commission.
The media marketplace is considerably different than when the rule was put in place in 1975, Martin said just before the vote in a statement. Allowing cross-ownership may help to forestall the erosion in local news coverage by enabling companies to share news-gathering costs across media platforms.
Martin called the move a relatively minimal loosening of the ban and will bolster struggling newspapers in big cities by spreading local news gathering costs across a variety of media platforms.
Earlier on Monday, the FCC approved a cap that would bar any single cable television service from holding 30 percent or more of the national pay television audience.
Opposition to the new rule was voiced by the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Democratic Rep. John Dingell of Michigan. He said he was greatly displeased that Martin had gone ahead with the vote.
Despite specific bipartisan and bicameral opposition, the Federal Communications Commission acted arrogantly and brazenly today to weaken the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban, Dingell said in a statement.
Robert McChesney, the President of Free Press, a national media policy organization, revoked the new FCC rule. It is taking away independent voices in cities already woefully short on local news and investigative journalism, he said in an email.
On Wall Street, media stocks were boosted following the announcement. Tribune, the Chicago-based owner of the Los Angeles Times, shares ending 3.2 percent higher. Tribune owns newspaper-TV combinations in five cities, including four in the top 20.
News Corp finished 1.2 percent higher. The conglomerate is currently seeking a waiver for continued ownership of two TV stations in the New York market, where it publishes the Wall Street Journal and New York Post.