Tribune Co. and other companies with newspapers and broadcast stations in the same city are expected to fight legislation that seeks to invalidate a recent FCC ruling.
By Jim Puzzanghera
WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of 15 senators wants to reverse changes to media ownership rules made in December, a potential problem for Tribune Co. and other companies with newspapers and broadcast stations in the same city.
Legislation by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) would invalidate the Federal Communications Commission's controversial decision to ease the so-called cross-ownership ban. By a partisan 3-2 vote, FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin, a Republican, pushed through a plan to allow newspaper and broadcast combinations in the top 20 markets and, critics say, make it easier for cross-ownership in smaller markets.
"The Federal Communications Commission is supposed to be the referee; instead they have joined those shaking the pompoms of more concentration," Dorgan said in announcing his bill Wednesday.
Dorgan pushed a similar "resolution of disapproval" through the Senate in 2003, after the FCC eliminated the ban and made other media ownership changes. But it became moot when federal judges halted most of the changes.
His legislation faces significant hurdles this time, however. Chicago-based Tribune, owner of the Los Angeles Times and KTLA Channel 5, along with Gannett Co. and other companies with newspapers and broadcast stations in the same city, would be expected to lobby aggressively against it, while President Bush would be unlikely to sign it. But Dorgan could try to attach the bill to must-pass legislation that would be difficult for Bush to veto.
Among the bill's co-sponsors are Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, who are battling for the Democratic presidential nomination. Public interest groups and advocacy organizations representing women and minorities quickly lined up in support of Dorgan's bill.
"When the FCC lets big media companies gobble up even more stations, that just leaves fewer and fewer outlets for women and people of color to purchase," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women.
The FCC granted Tribune waivers of the cross-ownership rules in November so it could close its $8.2-billion deal to go private. The commission granted a permanent waiver for newspaper and broadcast combinations in Chicago, and two-year waivers for combinations in L.A., New York, South Florida and Hartford, Conn.
Under the new cross-ownership rules, all the combinations but Hartford would be allowed because they are in the top 20 markets. If the ban were reinstated, Tribune would have to seek new waivers or divest.