Chairman Kevin Martin has taken the extraordinary step of issuing what amounts to his own personal notice of proposed rulemaking in the long-running, highly contentious media ownership proceeding.  On November 13 – the same date that an op-ed piece by Martin was published in the New York Times – the Chairman’s office issued a news release which spelled out Martin’s personal proposal for bringing the media ownership provision to a close.  You can read the news release and NYT article here.

In Martin’s view, the Commission should change one – and only one – aspect of the existing media ownership rules.  He proposes that the rules should be amended to permit common ownership of a daily newspaper and a broadcast station in the same market, BUT ONLY IF: 

  1. the market is one of the 20 largest Nielsen DBA’s, and
  2. only one daily newspaper and one broadcast station (radio or TV) is involved; and
  3. where the station is a television station (i) at least eight independently owned and operating "major media voices" (defined as major newspapers and full-power commercial television stations) would remain in the market post-transaction; and (ii) the station is not among the top four ranked stations in the DMA.

Any other proposed newspaper/broadcast transaction would be presumed not to be in the public interest.  However, that presumption might be overcome after consideration of various factors, including: the "level of concentration in the DMA"; a demonstration that the proposed transaction would increase the amount of "local news" in the market; a commitment that the newspaper and the broadcast station would continue to "exercise its own independent news judgment"; and the financial condition of the newspaper and (if the paper is in financial distress) the "owner’s commitment to invest significantly in newsroom operations."

According to the news release, Martin invites public comment on "his" proposals, but cautions that comments should be filed by December 11, 2007. The release does not mention reply comments.

No other aspects of the ownership rules would be changed, according to Martin’s proposal.

It has been widely reported that the Chairman hopes to wrap up the ownership proceeding before the end of the year (December 18 has been mentioned as D-Day). By announcing, through this unusual press release, his own proposal for reaching a bottomline, Martin is presumably hoping to gain support from folks who might otherwise raise a ruckus (such as the ruckus that was raised back in 2003, when then-Chairman Powell forced the initial version of the new rules through the process, only to have it reversed in part by the courts). While his proposal would relax to some degree the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership limitation, the relaxation would be considerably more modest than was originally proposed. Moreover, that would be the only change – in other words, the other multiple ownership limits would remain in place, unrelaxed.

If nothing else, it appears that the post-Thanksgiving/pre-Christmas period will be most interesting on the ownership front.