One day after Chairman Martin issued his proposal in which newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership would be allowable only in the top 20 markets (see Harry Cole’s article on November 13, 2007 for details), FCC Democratic Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein blasted the proposal in a joint statement.
The Commissioners labeled Martin’s plan a "wolf in sheep’s clothing," which could "propel a frenzy of competition-stifling mergers across the land." The statement pointed out that the top 20 markets account for more than 43% of U.S. households, and that the proposal would permit a newspaper/broadcast combination in any market in the country, which they labeled "a loophole that Big Media will drive a truck through."
While the Martin proposal would contain a restriction that a newspaper could not be co-owned with one of the top four-rated stations in a given market, Copps and Adelstein argue that the stations outside the top four are typically those owned by small, independent broadcasters, and as a result, the Martin proposal could further decimate the "shamefully low levels of minority and female ownership."
According to Communications Daily, Martin wanted his fellow commissioners to vote on a public notice which would have been issued on Tuesday, launching a comment period that would extend until December 11. When his colleagues refused to sign on, Martin decided to issue the notice himself, which has led to immediate, widespread criticism.
"The Martin rules are clearly not ready for prime time," Copps and Adelstein wrote. "Under the Chairman’s timetable, we count 19 working days for public comment. That is grossly insufficient. The American people should have a minimum of 90 days to comment, just as many Members of Congress have requested."
Copps and Adelstein added that it is improper for Martin to be holding the proposed Tribune buyout "hostage" in order to press the issue of a media ownership vote. "We are prepared to vote on the Tribune waiver requests within three working days after the Chairman circulates a draft decision," Copps and Adelstein said. "There is simply no excuse for using Tribune as a human shield."
The full Copps and Adelstein joint statement can be read here.