FCC Chief Aims to Relax Media Ownship Ban

The head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said Tuesday the agency should relax its ban on the cross-ownership of newspapers in the biggest cities and allow them to buy a broadcast television or radio station in the same market.

In a column published in the New York Times, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said that his proposal to ease the ownership rules would require each part of a combined entity to maintain its editorial independence.

"A company that owns a newspaper in one of the 20 largest cities in the country should be permitted to purchase a broadcast TV or radio station in the same market," Martin wrote. "But a newspaper should be prohibited from buying one of the top four TV stations in its community."

Martin also said that "this relatively minor loosening of the ban" on cross-ownership would strike a balance between protecting the quality of local news coverage while preventing too much concentration of ownership.

Martin recently said he wants the agency to wrap up its examination of media ownership and reach a decision by Dec. 18 on whether to ease limits on how many media outlets a company may own in a single market.

However, two U.S. senators have threatened to introduce bipartisan legislation that would impose a 90-day delay on any FCC decision to ease media ownership rules. The bill planned by Sens. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, and Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, would require the FCC to study the issue for at least 90 more days.