FCC votes to keep most media ownership rules

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday voted to retain nearly all rules limiting cross-ownership of newspapers, radio and TV stations in the same market, a source familiar with the vote said.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) logo is seen before the FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

The decision is a blow to struggling newspaper companies that have long pushed for the FCC to relax the restrictions. A spokesman for FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler did not immediately comment.

In June, Wheeler proposed retaining the existing rules barring companies in most instances from owning a newspaper and a broadcast TV or radio station in the same market, as well as other individual market limits on radio and TV stations with “slight modification,” according to the summary of the proposal.

The Newspaper Association of America said in a statement in June it was “deeply disappointed” in Wheeler’s proposal, saying it was “stunned that any policymaker in the internet era would propose to keep a 1970s-era law that prevents broadcast stations and newspapers from being owned by the same company.”

The group said Wheeler’s proposal kept in place a “40-year-old rule that is more obsolete than the eight-track tape or the mainframe computer ... The result will be less resources for the local news on which our democracy depends.”

Congress had ordered the commission in 1996 to review cross-ownership rules every four years but the FCC’s most recent review, before Wednesday, was completed in 2006.

The agency in 1975 banned cross-ownership of a newspaper and broadcast station in the same market unless it granted a waiver, but allowed existing ownership structures to remain in place.

Wheeler proposed to modestly relax the rule by providing an exception for failed or failing newspapers or stations.

Republican FCC commissioners have urged the agency to scrap the cross-ownership limits.

The Pew Research Center said in a report in June that U.S. newspaper weekday circulation fell 7 percent and Sunday circulation fell 4 percent in 2015 - the greatest declines since 2010.

Advertising revenue at U.S. newspapers fell nearly 8 percent in 2015 - the steepest decline since 2009. The United States has shed more than 120 newspapers since 2004, Pew said.

Wheeler’s proposal also leaves in place rules barring mergers among any of the top four national television broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.

Editing by Chris Reese and Matthew Lewis