Thursday, October 18, 2007

with electoral collapse imminent, Republicans take one last shot at an end run around democracy

Or at least we can hope it’s a “last shot.”

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17 — The head of the Federal Communications Commission has circulated an ambitious plan to relax the decades-old media ownership rules, including repealing a rule that forbids a company to own both a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same city.

Kevin J. Martin, chairman of the commission, wants to repeal the rule in the next two months — a plan that, if successful, would be a big victory for some executives of media conglomerates.

Among them are Samuel Zell, the Chicago investor who is seeking to complete a buyout of the Tribune Company, and Rupert Murdoch, who has lobbied against the rule for years so that he can continue controlling both The New York Post and a Fox television station in New York.

In an age where we already have much too much media consolidation, you can, of course, imagine my reaction when I saw this lead in Thursday’s New York Times.

As it turns out, the article is actually a good piece of reporting by the Stephen Labaton, but I would like to add one thing: Those decades-old media ownership rules aren’t really decades old. They were substantially relaxed already—most notably in 1996—and what rules do still exist have been ignored and/or under-enforced, as the Times’ reference to Murdoch’s holdings makes clear.

Chairman Martin wants to shove this “reform” through by December. As the article implies toward the end, this is coincidentally the deadline for Zell to complete his buyout of the Tribune Company—but the expiration of his temporary waiver on major market media ownership would prevent that from happening.

Three years ago, a similar attempt to give away the store to media conglomerates by then commissioner Michael Powell was tossed out in appeals court. After three more years of Bush court-packing, one wonders if the judicial system will be up to the task today.

Update: Take action. Contact Congress. Call for hearings.

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