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Copyright 2001 Boston Herald Inc.  
The Boston Herald

May 9, 2001 Wednesday ALL EDITIONS


LENGTH: 903 words

HEADLINE: Ownership ban vote is on hold

BYLINE: By Greg Gatlin

A highly anticipated rewrite of the ban on newspaper-broadcaster cross-ownership was put off by the Federal Communications Commission yesterday, probably until at least next month.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell, a Republican, is expected to hold up the controversial move until he has a clear majority on the commission, currently split between Democrats and Republicans. One Democrat, Susan Ness, plans to leave by June 1.

Democrat Gloria Tristani opposes relaxing the rules. Once Ness leaves, Powell is expected to hold a 2-1 Republican advantage.

But sources say the other Republican commissioner, Harold Furchtgott-Roth, wanted the proposed change to do even more to lift the restrictions.

Powell has made it clear that he opposes blanket federal limits on media holdings. But any move to relax the ban on one person or company owning both a newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same city is expected to draw fire from critics who fear greater media concentration.

To change the rule, the FCC must follow certain procedural steps. The first of those, posting a notice of rulemaking, was expected yesterday and would have let the commission take up the issue at tomorrow's meeting.

FCC spokesman David Fiske said commissioners hash over proposed rule changes before clearing specific wording. "It looked like they were not going to reach an agreement on consensus language so the chairman took it off the agenda," he said.

"Items are generally pulled from an agenda if they don't have a majority in favor," said Scott Cleland, chief of the Precursor Group, a Washington research firm.

"The general thinking is this entire rule is at risk," Cleland said. "There are near limitless combinations."

A lifting of the 26-year-old cross-ownership ban could shake up the media landscape as publishers and broadcasters seek to combine.

Once the FCC has spelled out the proposed change, the public has some time to comment, then there is a period reserved for replies. Afterward, the commissioners can take a final vote - which could come months later.

Observers say the issue could come up at the FCC's June 14 meeting.

LOAD-DATE: May 09, 2001

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