NAA filing may presage changes in FCC stations ownership rules

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The possibility that an Federal Communications Commission broadcast station ownership change could fuel a major new consolidation of U.S. media increased Aug. 24, when the Newspaper Association of America, which represents major dailies, filed an emergency petition with the FCC. The petition contended that the agency's Aug. 5 decision allowing broadcasters to own more than one TV station and up to eight radio stations in a single market eliminated any need for the current limits on cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations in a market.

Any delay in eliminating cross-ownership rules would now represent "discrimination'' against newspapers and violate the First Amendment -- and further threatens to leave newspapers in the dust amid a "feeding frenzy'' for broadcast stations, the group charged. It asked for an immediate suspension of rules that for 25 years have prevented newspapers from buying broadcast stations in their local markets.

NAA President John Sturm said there is "no logical reason" to treat newspapers differently than broadcasters. He also said he would expect that if papers get their wish, some newspaper owners would be "very aggressive'' in going after stations.

Ad agency media executives, however, gave some mixed reactions.

"It is unbelievable that this country would allow it. The next step is multiple ownership of networks or cable networks, and it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that a couple of media moguls can have control of the media and thought,'' said Jean Pool, exec VP-director of North American media services for J. Walter Thompson USA.

However Allen Banks, exec VP-media director for North America for Saatchi & Saatchi, said he had fewer problems with newspapers owning broadcasters than with broadcasters owning additional broadcasters in their markets.

Neither the American Association of Advertising Agencies nor the Association of National Advertisers fought the FCC media concentration changes, with Four A's saying that restrictions on ownership in medium-size markets improves things while combinations of a big station with a little station in a big market would have little effect.

Copyright August 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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