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Congress steps into media debate

Steve Henn Oct 18, 2007
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Congress steps into media debate

Steve Henn Oct 18, 2007
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TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Federal rules about media ownership have been around for decades. In a nutshell, they go something like this: You can’t own a newspaper and either a TV or a radio station at the same time in the same market. Since the FCC last tried to relax those rules, a federal appeals court has tightened them right back up again. Now Congress wants to get involved, too. And there’s that small matter of choosing a president next year. Marketplace’s Steve Henn reports on the business of the politics of journalism.

STEVE HENN: The last few years have been brutal for newspaper publishers. Some of the most prestigious newspaper companies in America have been chopped up and sold. The parent companies of the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune and L.A. Times all sold under pressure.

Adam Thierer is a fellow at the Progress and Freedom Foundation, funded by media companies. He says part of the problem is federal rules that limit what newspaper companies can do to compete in a changing media landscape.

Adam Thierer: I think there is a very good chance that if these rules are not reformed and newspapers and broadcasters don’t receive some relief, that we are going to start to see more newpapers’ falter.

But Mark Cooper at the Consumer Federation of America doesn’t buy that. He says allowing big media companies to get bigger will mean fewer diverse voices covering local communities.

Mark Cooper: On the market level the effect of allowing cross-ownership is to diminish the quantity of news that’s available to consumers, not increase it.

A vote on new rules could come as soon as December 18th. Although the details still aren’t public, any changes would likely clear the way for the sale of the Tribune Company to a Chicago real estate investor. It also makes life easier for Rupert Murdoch. His company owns both the New York Post and a New York City TV station.

But if the debate at the FCC slips in to next year, any deal on cross-ownership is likely to die.

thierer: Then it will be a definite political stalemate.

Thierer and Cooper agree. This debate is too hot for an election year.

In Washington, I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace.

RYSSDAL: Media companies stocks didn’t really do as well as you might have thought after news of that FCC story broke. Dow Jones didn’t budge. Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp actually fell a percent. The Washington Post and The New York Times were pretty much even. Tribune Company lost more than 2 percent.

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