Cantwell continues fight against FCC plan to ease media-concentration rules

Seattle Times - Kyung Song

WASHINGTON — Maria Cantwell and her fellow Senate Democrats are ramping up their opposition to a pending federal proposal to ease restrictions on cross ownership of newspapers and broadcast outlets in Seattle and other large markets.

Cantwell and Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, held a news conference Thursday morning on Capitol Hill to blast a draft plan by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to drop a 37-year-old rule that has prevented newspaper owners from also operating a television station or a radio station in the same market.

This is the FCC’s third attempt since 2003 to rewrite media cross-ownership rules it says need updating in an era when more people are getting their news on the Internet. Twice before, courts have thrown out the FCC’s decisions for lack of public input.

Cantwell has been sharply critical of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s recent attempt to relax the ban. Specifically, the FCC is preparing to allow the same owner to operate a daily newspaper and a radio station or a television station and a radio station in the same market.

Some critics say that would accelerate media monopolies by allowing conglomerates like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which owns The Wall Street Journal,  the New York Post, Fox News Channel and more than two dozen local TV stations.

Cantwell also is concerned about shrinking diversity in media ownership. As it is, minorities control just 39, or 2.2 percent, of full-power commercial TV stations in the nation, according to the FCC.

Sen. Patty Murray also has cited “abysmally low levels” of media ownership by women and minorities in calling on the FCC to justify its proposal.

But supporters of lifting the ban, including the Newspaper Association of America, say such action could help the ailing print industry by opening new business opportunities.

The Blethen family, majority owner of The Seattle Times, however, has long opposed easing cross-ownership rules.