FCC Adopts New Media Ownership Rules

In a three-to-two party line vote, the Federal Communications Commission recently approved a new rule that will lift a long-standing ban on newspaper/broadcast cross ownership. In a press release following the vote, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, citing steep declines in newspaper advertising and readership, said that the new rule will “forestall the erosion in local news coverage by enabling companies to share these local news gathering costs across multiple media platforms.”

That’s one of the primary reasons minority broadcasters greatly oppose the FCC decision. They believe that instead of promoting diversity, the rule will inhibit their ability to enter or compete in the marketplace. “It is going to accelerate the already excessive consolidation of media ownership in the U.S., particularly in the top 20 markets. Minority populations are concentrated in the largest markets, so that’s where we need to have broadcast stations owned and controlled by African Americans and other _minorities. By allowing more consolidation, the FCC will thwart the efforts of minorities to acquire stations in these markets,” says James Winston, executive director and general counsel for the National Association of Black Broadcasters.

Winston and others believe that increased consolidation will drive up the cost of buying stations, in addition to making it more difficult for minority broadcasters to retain or attract advertisers.

“If you own just one radio station, you don’t get those synergies. You’re competing with another sales force that can blanket the market because they can offer radio, TV, and print. It’s not even David and Goliath; it’s like David and an army of Goliaths,” says Karen Slade, general manager of the Los Angeles-based KJLH radio station owned by musician
Stevie Wonder. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) have indicated that they will ask the Appropriations
Committee to deny funding to implement the rule.

“The number of African American-owned television stations has dropped nearly 30% since 1998, and the probability that a radio station will be female- or minority-owned is significantly lower in more concentrated markets. Something is wrong when 13% of our population is African American, but African Americans own only 4% of radio stations, 4% of television stations, and 2% of newspapers,” said Kerry.