FCC's Michael Copps Calls for Scrutiny of Murdoch/WSJ Deal

Official Says Acquisition Is 'Unprecedented' and Deserves Thorough Examination

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Federal Communications Commission member Michael J. Copps wants the agency to take a close look at Rupert Murdoch's plan to buy the Wall Street Journal and not give it perfunctory approval.
Commissioner Michael Copps
Commissioner Michael Copps Credit: Chip East

In a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin, Mr. Copps, one of the few Democrats on the Republican-dominated commission, called the $5.6 billion deal "unprecedented in the history of the FCC" and said a thorough examination of the deal's implications is needed.

The FCC's cross-ownership rule currently bars owners of a TV station in a market from buying a local newspaper. The Murdoch-controlled News Corp. owns the New York Post and WNYW-TV in New York and operates the station under a waiver from the rule. The FCC has not been expected to take to close a look at the News Corp.'s Wall Street Journal purchase because of the newspaper is considered a national paper, not only a local one. A government anti-trust review of the deal is expected to go through the Justice Department or the Federal Trade Commission.

Too much Rupert in NYC?
"If approved, this transaction would leave News Corp. in control of a Big Four broadcast network and two of the nation's five largest newspapers (as well as a vast collection of cable channels, satellite networks, motion picture studios and publishing outlets)," Mr. Copps said in his letter. "For residents of the local New York metropolitan area, it will also mean that a single company operates two of the area's most popular television stations and two of its most popular newspapers," he said.

"The proposed transaction would appear directly to affect the New York metropolitan market in terms of localism, diversity and competition. We need to study these effects before the transaction proceeds.

"I believe the FCC's obligation to consider the public interest --- which the agency has traditionally defined as localism, diversity and competition -- requires us to consider the implications of a merger between these two media giants.

"Indeed, the FCC has never had occasion to receive comment or do research on the important public interest issues raised by (1) a national network owner owning one or more newspapers that are read across the nation or (2) a company already operating under waivers of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban acquiring a second newspaper published in that locality. These are important issues that surely deserve serious consideration by the commission and the American public."
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