newspaper television cross ownership

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has once again questioned the FCC’s determinations on broadcast ownership issues. In a decision just published, Prometheus Radio Project v FCC, the Court reviewed the FCC’s 2007 actions relaxing the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules and adopting policies to increase diversity in broadcast ownership.  These FCC decisions had followed a prior decision of the Third Circuit determining that the FCC’s 2003 Ownership Order, relaxing many FCC ownership rules, was not adequately justified.  The FCC’s subsequent actions on cross ownership were set out in its 2007 order, relaxed the newspaper broadcast cross ownership rules in larger markets through a policy based on certain presumptions that, when met, justified the common ownership of newspapers and radio and television stations in larger markets (and, in some cases, in smaller markets too)( see our summary of this order here and here).  The diversity order, released in 2008 (summarized here and here), adopted a number of rules and policies meant to encourage diversity in media ownership.  In this new decision, the Court found that both the decision as to the newspaper cross ownership rules and the one dealing with diversity policies were wanting, and sent these matters back to the FCC for further consideration. At the same time, the Court upheld the FCC’s decisions not to change the local television ownership rules (allowing common ownership of 2 TV stations only when there are at least 8 independently owned stations in a market, and where the combined stations are not both among the Top 4 in their markets) and to retain the sub-caps for radio ownership (the rules that allow one entity to own up to 8 stations in a single market, as long as there are no more than 5 in any single service, i.e. AM or FM).

The discussion of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules was entirely procedural.  While certain public interest groups had argued that the 2007 revision to the cross ownership rules allowed too many broadcast-newspaper combinations, a number of media companies argued that it allowed too few.  The Court didn’t address either contention, instead focusing on the process by which the FCC adopted the rules.  When the Court addressed the 2003 rule changes, it sent that decision back to the Commission questioning the basis for the "diversity index" that the FCC had adopted to measure when transactions resulted in too much concentration in a market, and specifically instructed the FCC to give the public notice and an opportunity to comment on the specifics of any new proposal that was adopted.  The Court felt that there were too many obvious flaws in the diversity index which could have been discovered if the public had been given a chance to review its details before it was adopted.  In asking for comments following the Court’s remand, the recent decision concluded that the FCC had given the public only a cursory description of the issues that it would consider on remand with respect to the cross-ownership issue when the FCC issued its request for public comment.  The substance of the Commission’s policies which were adopted, setting out presumptions in favor of cross-ownership in larger markets and against it in smaller markets, was not suggested in the request for public comment, but instead was first floated in a newspaper Op-Ed by then FCC Chair Kevin Martin.  While the FCC asked for comment on that proposal, parties were given less than a month to file comments, and a draft decision embodying the proposal was already circulating at the FCC before the comment period had even ended. This process prompted much outcry at the contentious FCC meeting at which these rules were adopted (see our summary here).  The Court looked at this process, and determined that the public had not been given an adequate opportunity to address the specifics of the FCC proposal, and had given the appearance of having pre-judged the outcome of the case.  Thus, this week’s decision sent the FCC’s 2007 order back to the FCC to seek more public comment, and to develop rules based on those comments. 


Continue Reading Court Tells FCC to Give More Consideration to Newspaper-Broadcast Cross Ownership Rules and to Policies to Promote Broadcast Ownership By Minorities

The FCC’s rules limiting the common ownership of radio and television stations, and of television stations and daily newspapers, are triggered by the Grade A contours of the television station encompassing the city of license of the radio station, or the city in which the newspaper is published.  Since June, there has been one problem with the application of that rule (Section 73.3555) – television stations in the digital world no longer have Grade A contours.  When adopting service contours for digital television, the FCC specified a Noise Limited Service Contour ("NLSC") as essentially the equivalent of the Grade B contour of an analog television signal – the contour at which the majority of people can receive the signal a majority of the time.  The FCC also specified a principal city contour – the signal level that needed to be placed over a station’s city of license.  But the FCC never bothered to specify the Grade A contour, despite the fact that the cross-ownership rules were premised on that contour.  In a case decided last week involving the financial restructuring of a radio company, the FCC’s Media Bureau staff decided that they would use the NLSC as a proxy for the Grade A contour until such time as the full Commission otherwise directed.

This decision actually makes common ownership of television stations and either newspapers or radio stations somewhat more difficult, as the noise limited contour, approximating the old analog Grade B contour, actually extends further than where the Grade A contour would have reached (when a digital station replicated its analog service area).  Thus, using this standard, the owners of a television station could be precluded from having attributable interests in radio stations or daily papers in more communities than would have been the case in the analog world.  As the FCC is now embarking on its review of the multiple ownership rules (as we have written before), the FCC may well revisit this issue in the course of that review.


Continue Reading FCC Clarifies Application of the Multiple Ownership Rules After the Digital Transition Makes the Grade A Contour Disappear

The FCC has released the agenda for its Workshop on the multiple ownership rules (about which we wrote here).  The workshop will span three mornings (November 2-4), and will include live testimony from a different panel each morning.  The first panel will include the academic perspective on ownership rules, the second the view from "public interest organizations", and the third from industry representatives, though the participants on that panel are, at this point, the most unsettled.  The Commission also requests written comments from the public, which can be filed through November 20.  As we wrote when this topic first came up last month, these workshops are the first step in the FCC’s consideration of the multiple ownership rules – a review that it is required to conduct once every 4 years – with 2010 being the year in which such review is required. 

The Commission sets out a series of questions that it would like to have addressed.  These questions include:

  • The FCC is required by statute to consider the rules governing local radio ownership, local television ownership, radio-TV cross-ownership, broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership and the dual network rule.  The Commission asks if it should consider other rules in the context of this proceeding.
  • In assessing ownership rules, should the Commission treat each rule in isolation, or should it look at all media together and attempt to craft more general rules addressing media consolidation as a whole in relevant markets?
  • Should rules that are adopted be "bright line" rules, that limit entities to specific numbers of stations, or should the Commission make a case by case determination of whether a combination is in the public interest, subject to some general principles?
  • Should the Commission address the traditional concepts of competition, diversity and localism to this proceeding, or come up with new ways of looking at these concepts, or different concepts to assess ownership goals?
  •  How should the FCC analyze competition, localism and diversity in today’s marketplace?  What are the relevant markets for analysis?  What metrics should be used?
  • What studies or analysis should the FCC use to inform its decisions on these topics.


Continue Reading FCC Releases Agenda for First Workshop on Revisions to its Multiple Ownership Rules – Localism and Economic Competition Issues Included

While the FCC continues its series of public hearings on possible revisions to its multiple ownership rules, the issue of newspaper-broadcast cross ownership is now squarely before the FCC in a number of proceedings. For instance, in the applications proposing a transfer of control of the Tribune Company, waiver requests have been filed in the markets where the company owns both newspaper and broadcast properties.  These markets include some of the largest television markets in the country including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.  As the current rules prohibit the ownership of a daily paper and either a radio or television station in the same market, Chicago, where Tribune owns radio, TV and newspaper properties and has done so for many years, asks for waivers for both stations.  The FCC just designated the application for transfer of control of the Tribune Company as a permit but disclose proceeding, meaning that parties can talk to the FCC decision makers about the case, as long as they file a written disclosure statement with the FCC for inclusion in the record of the case.

 Also, press reports note that the petitions to deny have been filed against applications for the renewal of Fox’s television stations in New York, arguing that the combination of  Fox’s television stations in the market with the ownership of the New York Post is not in the public interest.

Seemingly, the proposed purchase of the Wall Street Journal by News Corporation, the owners of Fox,  if it were to ever come to fruition, would at least be reviewed by the FCC, as the Journal is published in New York, where Fox owns television stations.  However, FCC precedent established when Gannett purchased a Washington, DC TV station, in the same market where USA Today is published, would seem to set a precedent for the treatment of a specialized national newspaper like the Journal. While published in New York, the Journal really is national in scope – and not focused on local news, sports, entertainment or advertisers in the same manner that a local newspaper would be. 


Continue Reading Debate Over Newspaper-Broadcast Cross Ownership Rule Heats Up