A few weeks ago, we wrote about just how outmoded the FCC’s prohibitions on the cross ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations were in an era when newspapers seem to be going out of business at an alarming rate. We quoted a DC trade press reporter who had mused that the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule could well outlast the newspaper itself. According to a report in Bloomberg News today, the Commission may well be revisiting the issue, according to statements made by Chairman Copps, in light of the economic turmoil in the newspaper industry. But what would a review of the issue bring from the FCC? That is unclear from the article – and unclear from the prior statements of the Acting Chairman.
In late 2007, Acting Chairman Copps was active in his opposition to the Commission’s very limited relaxation of the cross-ownership prohibitions. See our summary of the FCC debate on that relaxation, here. But would he take the same position today in light of the current economic climate for newspaper publishers? As the Bloomberg article pointed out, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has suggested that the Justice Department might want to relax antitrust review of newspaper combinations given their economic plight. Other legislative fixes have been suggested – including allowing papers to operate as non-profit, tax-exempt entities to which charitable contributions could be made. With these kinds of legislative efforts underway, perhaps a change in direction at the FCC is indeed possible. One more issue to watch in the coming months.