Media Consolidation: What happens after the FCC vote?
By Rick Karr
(photo by Robin Holland)
Next Tuesday (December 18), the five members of the Federal Communications Commission will decide whether or not the U.S. will go through another frenzy of media consolidation: They'll vote on Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's proposal to let newspapers buy radio and TV stations. Martin's plan is opposed by minority groups, a majority (pdf) of the public, and, as we report on this week's edition of THE JOURNAL, Capitol Hill lawmakers from both parties.
I tell my students at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism that reporters shouldn't make predictions because if they turn out to be wrong, the reporter loses credibility. But I'm throwing caution to the wind to make some predictions about Tuesday's FCC vote, anyway:
- Despite opposition from members of his own party, Martin will press ahead and have the full FCC vote on his plan.
- Martin's GOP colleagues on the FCC will vote for the plan.
- The FCC's two Democrats will vote against the plan.
- The FCC will therefore approve the plan on a 3-2, party-line vote.
- Lawmakers in both Houses of Congress will introduce bills to overturn the decision.
- Trade groups representing media conglomerates will challenge the decision in Federal court, arguing that it doesn't go far enough.
- Public-interest groups will challenge Martin's plan in Federal court, arguing that it's bad for democracy.
The first prediction is a no-brainer: At a committee hearing on Thursday, December 13, Senators from both parties pressed Martin to delay the vote, but the FCC chairman didn't budge.
The second, third, and fourth are gimmes, as well: At hearings in both the House and Senate, the FCC's other Republicans argued in favor of lifting the ban on newspapers owning broadcast outlets, while the minority Democrats kept up their opposition.
On Capitol Hill, a Senate bill is almost a certainty, as both Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) have said that they'll press to overturn an FCC vote for more consolidation, as they did in 2003. A House bill isn't a sure thing, but Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) has already launched an investigation of FCC procedures, and Rep. Michael Doyle (D-PA) has hinted that he or a colleague may introduce legislation to rescind the FCC vote.
The lawsuits are likely, as well. Newspaper publishers and broadcasters have complained that Martin's proposal sets two different standards for newspapers that want to buy radio and TV stations: Those in the nation's 20 largest cities would have an easier time of it than those in smaller markets, they say. (The FCC's two Democrats and public-interest advocates say the distinction is meaningless and all papers would be able to get into the broadcasting business under Martin's plan.) Those public-interest groups, meanwhile, are almost certainly contemplating how they might repeat the legal victory they scored (pdf) the last time a Republican-dominated FCC tried to loosen media-ownership rules in 2003.
The bottom line: This story won't end with the FCC vote on December 18. So stay tuned.