The old rules barring media companies from owning both a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same market are out of step and need to be changed, the National Association of Broadcasters argued in a filing to the Federal Communications Commission this week.
The comments came as the FCC is weighing whether or not to overhaul the nation’s media ownership regulations as part of a Congressionally mandated review of the rules it undertakes every four years.
The NAB is hoping the commission will loosen many of the restrictions currently in place, because it says that they prevent legacy media companies from competing in the digital age. By not being able to legally take advantage of the kinds of economies of scale that can be achieved by owning both broadcast stations and print publications, media companies are struggling to offer news and other programming that is of value to local communities, the NAB says.
"The financial stresses resulting from increased competition for viewers and advertisers are substantial for stations in all markets, but especially for stations in small and mid-sized markets that have disproportionately smaller revenue bases," the filing reads. "Television broadcasters also provided substantial evidence that these financial stresses hinder their continued ability to serve local communities with high quality programming."
Critics of efforts to weaken the laws complain that allowing companies to own television or radio stations and newspapers in the same communities could lead to monopolies that might kill jobs and impact free expression.
The NAB, however, may find a sympathetic hearing among the commissioners. At a panel at the NAB trade show in Las Vegas this week, FCC commissioner Robert McDowell said it was time to deregulate many aspects of media ownership, according to a report in Variety.
In particular, McDowell said the same restrictions on cross-ownership do not apply to the web that apply to print.
"I think it's an anachronism," McDowell said. "I think it's actually resulted in a reduction in the number of voices in the marketplace for all kinds of media outlets, but especially for minority- (and) women-owned."
Even if the commission sides with easing up on restrictions, it could still face legal headaches. A previous attempt by the FCC to allow companies to own both newspapers and broadcast stations in the same market was struck down by a federal appeals court in Philadelphia.
The court, however, didn't make its judgment on the merits of the case but said the FCC didn't follow the proper procedure when it changed its rules.