Media scrum

Jan 22, 2003 at 12:00 am

News Hits was expecting to play Cassandra and warn of imminent calamity in a new round of media consolidation. There’s been relatively little media coverage (wonder why?) about upcoming Federal Communications Commission hearings to reconsider rules that, for instance, keep companies from buying newspaper and broadcast outlets in the same market, and bar single companies from owning more than eight radio stations in a given market. Other rules under scrutiny limit ownership of TV stations in a given market (one of the top four stations or two smaller properties) and nationwide (combined audience not to exceed 35 percent of the nation’s households).

Part of the FCC’s thinking is that the post-cable, post-Internet proliferation of voices makes the old-style regulations irrelevant. The potential impact of such deregulation?

“Among the possibilities is that one or two companies in each town would have an effective monopoly on reaching consumers by being allowed to control the newspaper, radio, TV, billboards and more,” wrote Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel — chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, respectively — in a New York Times op-ed piece.

Dick Kernen, vice president of Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts, and Ben Burns, head of the Wayne State University journalism department, both predicted further property buying, selling and consolidating locally if existing rules were abandoned. Burns suggested there’d be a sort of “Wild West” period — nationally and locally — that could entice, for instance, Detroit News owner Gannett, which owns 22 TV stations around the country, to consider buying TV or radio stations in the Detroit market. Detroit Free Press owner Knight Ridder, which currently owns no broadcast properties, would likely check out broadcast outlets in its newspaper markets, added Burns.

Hell, Metro Times might buy walkie-talkies.

That’s if the standing rules fall.

When FCC Chairman Michael Powell and his fellow commissioners showed up before a skeptical-to-hostile Senate Commerce Committee last week, deregulation no longer seemed a fait accompli. Powell ruled out a wholesale elimination of ownership rules and said he was troubled, for instance, by Clear Channel’s amassing of 1,240 stations. (“A bipartisan Senate committee barbecues the FCC,” the newsletter Inside Radio wrote in capturing the tone of the meeting.)

So while News Hits has dimmed the Encroaching Homeland Monopoly Alert from orange to yellow, this is no time to take our eyes off Powell and the other Merry Marketeers on the commission. The FCC takes comments for the rule review until month’s end. Those so inclined to tell the FCC a thing or two about ever-bigger media can find a form at

Send comments to [email protected]