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Copyright 2001 Boston Herald Inc.  
The Boston Herald

April 25, 2001 Wednesday ALL EDITIONS


LENGTH: 491 words

HEADLINE: Media rules may relax - Deregulation could eliminate 'cross-ownership' ban

BYLINE: By Greg Gatlin

As Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell signaled his opposition to limits on media holdings in a speech to broadcasters yesterday, industry and government sources say the "cross-ownership" ban on newspaper-broadcaster combinations in the same city could be next in line for elimination.

An aide to U.S. Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.), the powerful chairman of the House Commerce Committee, said yesterday that if the FCC fails to lift the cross-ownership rule, Congress may take its own action.

"If the FCC doesn't repeal this antiquated rule then there's a very good possibility that Congress will in the near future," Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson said.

Since 1975, the FCC has barred newspaper owners from holding a broadcast license for a station in the same market. The ban has forced sales of both broadcasters and newspapers over the years.

In an April 18 letter to Powell, Tauzin wrote that "a panoply of rules" - including  newspaper-broadcaster and cable operator-broadcast station cross-ownership - were born of a time when far fewer media outlets fueled demand for more diverse viewpoints.

"The Commission's rules must reflect today's world, not that of 50 years ago," Tauzin wrote.

Powell may agree. He told a House panel in March that the cross-ownership rule ought to be validated or eliminated.

John Sturm, the chief executive of the Newspaper Association of America, a foe of the cross-ownership ban, said there's "no chance" the FCC will back the rule.

"There's no way that these rules, put together in the early '70s for the media world that existed then, can be validated in today's world," Sturm said. "The sources of information are so much greater now . . . as to be almost overwhelming."

An FCC spokesman said yesterday that the commission staff is preparing the formal process of reviewing the ban.

The review could provoke sharp opposition in some quarters.

Critics of easing the ban, such as Andy Schwartzman of the Media Access Project, contend that a community's newspaper and television or radio station, if held by the same owner, could give that owner too much local influence.

But Schwartzman knows he's fighting an uphill battle at the FCC.

"Powell has laid out his predilections," Schwartzman said. "He's entitled to have a preliminary opinion, but we expect him also to approach it with an open mind."

Speaking to broadcasters in Las Vegas yesterday, Powell said blanket limits on broadcast outlet ownership "almost always are poorly calibrated," and may not withstand First Amendment scrutiny. Most recently, Powell's FCC eased a ban on one TV network owning another.

Photo Caption: NEXT IN LINE: With Michael Powell, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, coming out yesterday against limits on media holdings, there's a growing belief that rules blocking 'cross-ownership' of newspapers and broadcast outlets could be lifted. AP photo

LOAD-DATE: April 25, 2001

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