A key U.S. lawmaker urged Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin to delay his plans for a Dec. 18 vote on a media-ownership rule change that would benefit Tribune Co. and News Corp. (NWSA:US)
Martin's plan to ease a 32-year ban on companies owning a newspaper and a television station in the same market is ``a grave matter that deserves the commission's full and fair consideration,'' Representative John Dingell said today in a letter to Martin. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC.
The proposal set a Dec. 11 deadline for public comment. That would give the FCC's five members only a week to review comments if they agree to vote on Dec. 18, Dingell said.
Martin, who released the plan Nov. 13, wants to relax the rules in the 20 largest U.S. markets and let newspaper publishers there own either a TV or radio station. The proposal would bar such a company from owning a TV station that ranks among the top four in a market.
The rule change would make it easier for Tribune to be acquired for $8.2 billion by a group led by billionaire Sam Zell. Tribune, as part of its buyout, is seeking a waiver of current FCC rules barring ownership of both TV stations and newspapers, including properties in four of the top-20 markets.
Newspapers have faced ``significant challenges'' and financial difficulties,'' Martin said on a Nov. 13 conference call. ``It's important to do all we can to ensure that we still have a vibrant newspaper industry.''
Tribune shares rose 54 cents to $29.79 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading (TRB:US). They have declined 3.2 percent this year. Class A shares of News Corp. (NWS:US), which owns a newspaper and television station in New York, fell 15 cents to $20.72 and have dropped 3.5 percent this year.
Dingell said he will ``reserve judgment on the merits of the proposal'' until he can ``gain a greater understanding of its impact on competition, localism, and diversity of viewpoints'' in the affected markets.
Competition, diversity and broadcasters' service to their local communities are ``critical values'' in U.S. media policy, said Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts, a Democrat who chairs the House telecommunications subcommittee,
``Chairman Martin's media-ownership proposal deserves the utmost scrutiny,'' Markey said today in an e-mailed statement.
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