Lawmakers Eying Elimination of FCC’s Media Cross-Ownership Rule

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) (L) and ranking member Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) in March 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Republican lawmakers are seeking to eliminate the Federal Communications Commission’s newspaper and broadcast cross-ownership rule through draft legislation reauthorizing the federal agency.

The 1975 rule bars media companies from owning and operating newspapers and TV stations in the same local market.

The FCC reauthorization draft bill that was discussed during a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee oversight hearing on July 25 includes a section called “elimination of daily newspaper cross-ownership rule.”

Despite the hearing’s focus on oversight and the discussion draft, members of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee spent the majority of their time sparring over the definition of net neutrality and did not discuss the cross-media ownership rule provision. The FCC has not been reauthorized since 1990.

Democratic committee members are reportedly largely opposed to eliminating the rule.

“Committee Democrats will not support any efforts to eliminate the broadcast and newspaper cross-ownership rule,” a Democratic aide said in an email. “We should not be making it more difficult for independent voices in the media to thrive, especially as the Trump administration continues its misguided attacks on the free press.”

Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) introduced legislation in the previous Congress along with Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) to repeal the FCC rule.

“Chairman Walden continues to support eliminating a dated rule that no longer reflects the current media landscape,” a spokesman for the Energy and Commerce Committee said.

The FCC, under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler, refrained from eliminating the rule during the agency’s quadrennial ownership rule review process in 2016.

An FCC spokesman declined to comment on the draft reauthorization bill, but pointed to current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s dissent from when the rule was last reviewed.

“The days of Americans waiting for the morning newspaper to learn about what is going on around them are long gone,” Pai said at the time. “Yet, instead of repealing the Newspaper-Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule to account for the massive changes in how Americans receive news and information, we cling to it.”

The National Association of Broadcasters petitioned the FCC at the end of last year to reconsider its review after the Democratic majority voted 3-2 to continue the ban. The trade association, which represents radio and television broadcasters, is strongly opposed to the cross-ownership rule.

“Given the number of lost journalism jobs in recent years, it’s astonishing that the government still bars a broadcaster from buying a newspaper in the same market,” NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said in an emailed statement to Morning Consult. “This is an anachronistic ‘I Love Lucy’-era rule living in a ‘Modern Family’ world. It ought to be eliminated immediately.”

Following last week’s confirmation of Jessica Rosenworcel and Brendan Carr to FCC vacancies, Republican commissioners now hold a 3-2 majority on the commission.

Senate lawmakers are also planning on releasing an FCC reauthorization bill before the end of the year.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) — chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee — told reporters after a panel executive session on Aug. 2 that FCC reauthorization will be one of the first things that the committee addresses when lawmakers return from the August recess.

“FCC reauthorization is at the top of the list,” Thune said.

It is unclear if the committee’s legislation will also include a provision eliminating the media cross-ownership rule as part of the agency’s reauthorization.