The Federal Communications Commission is taking a closer look at how many media properties a company may own in the top 20 markets, as its new Chairman Tom Wheeler pulled an internal proposal made by his predecessor that would have loosened the limit.
Former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski circulated the proposal in 2012 to the commission. The proposal faced criticism from advocacy groups such as Free Press, which argues consolidation can reduce the diversity of media viewpoints and weaken the national news dialogue.
Wheeler withdrew the proposal on Dec. 6, allowing the commission to "asses the record and determine how to proceed," an FCC spokesperson says.
"We do expect to move expeditiously to take additional steps with regard to broadcast ownership rules," says the FCC spokesperson, who requested not to be named.
Rules on media ownership are supposed to be reviewed every four years, but the last review occurred in 2006. Updates have been delayed by disagreements, including a 2008 vote by Congress blocking the FCC's proposed changes.
The Newspaper Association of America supports loosening the rules on cross-ownership of media properties, since it could encourage acquisition and investment and potentially rejuvenate newsrooms lacking funds. Merger moves during 2013 included plans by the Tribune Company -- which publishes the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune -- to purchase TV stations.
Newspaper owner Gannett Co. also received approval from the Justice Department on Monday to buy TV stations owned by Belo Corp, with the condition that Gannett sell a CBS affiliate in St. Louis to an independent third party.
Politicians, including Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., have expressed concern about the potential consequences of looser rules for owning newspapers and broadcast stations in the same market.
"This proposed draft order appears only to serve the interest of large media companies that have made bad business decisions," Cantwell said in November 2012.
During Wheeler's Senate confirmation hearing in June, Cantwell asked him about what decision he might make on the media ownership issue. Wheeler, responding to Cantwell's concerns, said he had "long been an advocate of diversity of voices."
"When the commission looks at these issues, competition, localism and diversity are the issues that should be the touchstones. Not business plans," Wheeler said.