New federal rules that would allow a single company to own newspapers and broadcast outlets in the same market are on hold for now while pressure is building for a congressional veto showdown with President Bush.
In June, the Federal Communications Commission voted to allow individual companies to own stations serving up to 45 percent of the nation’s viewers, up from the current 35 percent.
But on Wednesday, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked implementation of the new ownership rules pending a hearing later this month. And Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to block the new rules.
The outcome won’t affect Gannett Co.’s ownership of the Arizona Republic and KPNX-TV (Channel 12), said Tara Connell, Gannett’s vice president of corporate com- munications.
“We own them under a current licensing agreement with KPNX, and that license isn’t due until 2006,” she said.
“So we were operating this under the old rule, we were permitted to operate it under the old rule. So if the new rules exist, it doesn’t change our ownership position out there at all.”
As to what happens in 2006 when KPNX’s license is up for renewal, Connell said it “depends on what the courts end up doing about the new rules.”
“We won’t know that for a while,” she said. “Lots of things can happen with what’s going on at the court. It’s too early to tell where it all stands right now.”
Buoyed by that decision, consumer groups expanded their fight against the rules by petitioning the FCC to abandon the regulations, saying they resulted from a flawed decision that denied the public a chance to comment.
With billions of dollars and programming control at stake, the fight over the national TV ownership cap is pitting the television broadcast networks against many local station owners and a coalition of conservative and liberal groups.
The White House has threatened to veto legislation that thwarts the new regulations, arguing they are needed in a 21st century television industry changed by satellite and cable stations, as well as by the Internet.
The Senate Appropriations Committee’s voice vote came six weeks after the House approved a bill that would also block the liberalized ownership rules.
There has been strong congressional sentiment against raising the cap on television ownership, leading many lawmakers to conclude Bush would not cast his first veto as president on the issue.
In the meantime, Susan Keith, an assistant professor in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University, said the new FCC rules make her nervous.
“In the end, I really worry that if the FCC’s relaxed rules are accepted, we’re really losing voices and it seems to me that having the voices is the paramount thing,” she said. “That’s really important and you would wish that the economy could do that. You would wish that we would have all of the voices through a free-market economy.”
But judging by the rapid consolidation of radio in recent years, “that’s not a reality in our media marketplace today,” Keith said.
“It does worry me that our news becomes awfully homogenized,” she said. “It’s always interesting when there are more people mixing it up in the media market. The Internet is a pretty free and wild place, and there’s all sorts of media content out there, and that makes it pretty interesting. It gives you lots of alternatives and lots of takes on the news.”