Since January we’ve heard a lot of talk about changing the way the government does business. At the FCC, however, it looks like it’s still just talk. When it comes to the newspaper-broadcast cross ownership rules, at least, the times … they definitely are NOT a-changin’.
This week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said it would put off a decision on whether to lift a stay on the FCC’s modest attempt to loosen the rules until after the Obama FCC has a chance to review the revisions.
This comes after acting FCC chairman Michael Copps announced that the Commission would no longer oppose a petition by activist groups to put the case on hold until the new FCC leadership was in place.
Let’s add this up. The usual suspects in the activist realm (Media Access Project, Free Press, United Church of Christ, etc.) try to stall a court action that might loosen the cross ownership rules. They know that if they can stall until a Democratic-majority FCC is in place, the changes are as good as dead. The acting FCC chairman, who favors that outcome, goes along with the idea.
So it’s business as usual at the FCC. But we expected more from the federal judiciary.
The court’s decision was unfortunate. The judges should have acted decisively and immediately to lift the stay – as a matter of principle. The ban on cross ownership makes absolutely no sense, neither in this digital age, nor in this recession. The ban should have been abolished in its entirety years ago. Some relaxation now would at least be a step in the right direction.
As for the activist groups and the acting FCC leadership – shame on them. Has nobody among them noticed that in recent months newspapers have been biting the dust at an increasing rate that is nothing short of alarming?
If these policy watchers and makers truly cared about the public interest and a diversity of media voices, as they purport to do, they would be doing everything possible to help newspapers survive.
It’s true that the problems facing the newspaper industry go well beyond the scope of the newspaper-broadcast cross ownership rules. And it’s true that repealing the rules will not, by itself, restore the industry to robust health.
But getting rid of the rules – or even relaxing them a bit as the previous FCC chairman had proposed – might just help a little around the edges. And if even one newspaper were able to keep publishing as a result, wouldn’t the public interest be better served?
That would be a change we could believe in.