WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission, overturning a 32-year-old ban, voted Tuesday to allow broadcasters in the nation's 20 largest media markets to also own a newspaper.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was joined by his two Republican colleagues in favor of the proposal, while the commission's two Democrats voted against it.
Martin pushed the vote through despite intense pressure from House and Senate members on Capitol Hill to delay it. The chairman has the support of the White House, which has pledged to turn back any action that seeks to undo the vote.
Martin, noting the steady decline in revenue for newspapers, said his proposal "strikes a balance" between the changing media marketplace and the need to protect diversity and competition.
Commissioner Michael Copps described the action as a "terrible decision."
"In the final analysis, the real winners today are businesses that are in many cases quite healthy, and the real losers are going to be all of us who depend on the news media to learn what's happening in our communities and to keep an eye on local government," he said.
Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell defended the proposal, noting the explosion of new media in the modern marketplace, and he denied that the proposal was "pockmarked with loopholes," as claimed by the Democrats.
The cross-ownership ban was approved by the FCC in 1975 to serve "the twin goals of diversity of viewpoints and economic competition."
The FCC at the time noted that "it is unrealistic to expect true diversity from a commonly owned station-newspaper combination."
Under Martin's proposal, one entity would be permitted to own a newspaper and one broadcast station in the same market. But it must be among the 20 largest in the nation, and following the transaction at least eight independently owned-and-operated media voices must remain.
In addition, the television station may not be among the top four in the market.