June 27, 2016 / 8:20 PM / in 3 years

FCC chair proposes retaining most U.S. media ownership rules

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Monday proposed retaining most rules limiting cross ownership of newspapers, radio and TV stations in the same market.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler testifies before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the FCC's 2016 budget request on Capitol Hill in Washington May 12, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

FCC chairman Tom 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 a proposal to fellow commissioners seen by Reuters.

Congress had ordered the commission in 1996 to review cross ownership rules every four years but the FCC last completed a review in 2006. The FCC still has not completed the 2010 or 2014 reviews.

The FCC 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 is proposing to modestly relax the rule by providing an exception for failed or failing newspapers or stations.

The struggling U.S. newspaper industry has long sought an end to the ban. The Newspaper Association of America told Congress in 2014 that cross-ownership allows journalists at newspapers and broadcast stations to collaborate.

Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said in a blog post this month that the cross-ownership limits should be scrapped.

“Broadcasters and newspapers have much to contribute in terms of diverse, local content, but many have been left fighting, some for their very survival, with an artificially-narrowed range of options,” O’Rielly wrote.

The Pew Research Center said in a report this month 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 U.S. has shed more than 120 newspapers since 2004, Pew said.

In May, a U.S. federal appeals court struck down regulations aimed at cracking down on joint sales agreements by local broadcasters, saying an overall review of media ownership rules was long overdue and needed to be completed first.

The three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit U.S. Appeals Court in Philadelphia said the commission’s regulation “put the cart before the horse” because it had failed to finalize the overall review of media ownership rules.

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.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown

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