Bloomberg News

Cross-Ownership Ban May Ease, Newspaper Leader Says

November 30, 2005

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is likely to relax a ban on common ownership of a newspaper and broadcast station in the same city, the head of a U.S. newspaper industry group said.

``Logic is behind it,'' said John Sturm, president of the Newspaper Association of America, after a luncheon speech today before the non-profit Media Institute in Washington. ``Cross- ownership doesn't affect competition.''

The decades-old cross-ownership ban prevents companies such as Tribune Co. and News Corp. from owning both a newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same market without special waivers. Sturm said he expects commission Chairman Kevin Martin to seek a separate vote on easing the ban and not include it in a larger package of rule changes.

Martin, while a commissioner, urged relaxation of the rule in 2003. The commission under then-Chairman Michael Powell adopted a new set of media-ownership rules in 2003 that eased the cross-ownership ban, provoking a legal challenge. A federal court blocked the change and sent the issue back to the FCC.

Tribune Co. has lobbied actively for an easing of the cross-ownership ban, spokesman Jeff Reiter said. Tribune owns both a newspaper and a TV station in five markets, including in Los Angeles and New York.

Waivers Needed

Tribune needs to obtain waivers in four of those markets or be forced to divest either the affected broadcast station or newspaper, Reiter said. In Chicago, where it has owned both WGN- TV and the Chicago Tribune since before the rule was created, it doesn't need a waiver.

Commission spokesman David Fiske declined to comment. Sturm whose Vienna, Virginia-based group represents 2,000 newspapers including the New York Times and USA Today, said he hasn't spoken with Martin.

The cross-ownership ban was imposed to prevent one owner from gaining a dominant position in a given market and squeezing out alternative sources of news and other information. Opponents have argued that the ban has been outmoded by new media including the Internet and cable television. Supporters of keeping the ban say it is crucial to preserving media diversity.

To contact the reporter on this story: Neil Roland in Washington at nroland@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Emma Moody at emoody@bloomberg.net.


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