FCC Chairman Moves to Loosen Media Ownership Restrictions

December 04, 2007 04:31 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Chairman Kevin Martin’s proposal, should it be approved, will end years of speculation that cross-ownership restrictions have become political tools, rumors that began with the law’s Watergate-era origins.

30-Second Summary

In 1975, congress passed federal regulations making it illegal for a single company to own multiple media properties, such as a newspaper and a television or radio station, in the same metropolitan market.

The express reasoning for the plan was to prevent monopolies and ensure a diversity of opinion, but there were rumors of political motivations as well.

The roots of that speculation lead to The Washington Post’s uncovering the Watergate scandal, which prompted President Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation. Blaming the Post for his political disgrace, Nixon was recorded as telling two of his top aides in 1972 that the paper would “have damnable, damnable problems out of this one … They have a television station … and they’re going to have to get it renewed.”

Three years after that conversation, the Federal Communications Commission barred cross-ownership, forcing the Post to swap its local television station with one in Detroit.

A direct connection has never been established between Nixon’s threats and the ban, but that event marked the beginning of allegations that media policy and politics are inextricably entwined.

In 1988, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) added a provision to an appropriations bill that barred the FCC from granting waivers to the ownership restrictions. The move was widely seen as a direct attack against vocal Kennedy critic Rupert Murdoch.

That year Murdoch had to re-apply for the waivers that had allowed him to own a newspaper and a television station in both Boston and New York. Kennedy’s action prompted a tabloid war pitting the “Fat Boy” against the “Dirty Digger.”

In the end, Murdoch was forced to sell both the Boston Herald and the New York Post.

Now FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wants to do away with the cross-ownership regulations. However Martin drew fire from critics when he tried to expedite approval for his reforms by tying them to Tribune Company’s waiver renewal requests. It seems that even the ban’s potential dissolution is steeped in political machinations.

Headline Links: Martin’s dealings with Tribune

Background: Proposal for reform

Reactions: FCC commissioners square off

Historical Context: Political skullduggery?

Opinion & Analysis: Deregulation debate

Reference Material: Tracking media ownership


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