Democrats press FCC over Dow Jones sale

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Federal rules try to limit media power by prohibiting a company from owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same city.

Billionaire Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. faces no such hurdle in its pending deal to acquire the country's second-largest paper, Dow Jones & Co.'s The Wall Street Journal, even though it owns a broadcast TV network and a national cable news channel that blankets the U.S.

Some Democrats contend that such national combinations should be scrutinized as well. Already not particularly fond of Murdoch's News Corp. because of the perceived Republican tilt of Fox News Channel, they are urging the Federal Communications Commission to review the deal.

"The proposed merger between News Corp. and Dow Jones raises the serious question of whether a single company's concentration on a national scale should continue to be unfettered and unchecked," wrote Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, in letter to FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin last week. "The FCC should consider studying whether the public interest would be served if media cross-ownership rules existed at the national level."

News Corp. declined to comment.

Near term, a national ban is considered a long shot. Nonetheless, Dorgan and some other lawmakers, as well as Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards and FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps, also a Democrat, would like to see the Dow Jones purchase meet the same litmus test local media owners must pass under existing cross-ownership rules.

New York is drawing special attention. Although the Journal circulates nationally, about 302,000 of its 2.1 million daily copies are sold in the New York metropolitan area, where News Corp. owns the New York Post and operates two TV stations with FCC waivers.

"In my view, this buyout will result in an overly consolidated media market, imperiling the diversity of opinions available to residents of the greater New York area and across the country," Democratic Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut wrote to Martin last week.

A spokesman for Martin declined to comment on the letters and his position. But Martin is highly unlikely to support a broader ban, having publicly questioned the need for the existing ban on cross-ownership in a single market. The FCC, which has a Republican majority, is holding hearings on whether to ease that and other media ownership rules.

Copps, the Democratic FCC commissioner, said yesterday that the FCC should consider a national rule as part of its media ownership review, because traditional definitions are changing in an era of rapid convergence.

"Yes, The Wall Street Journal is a national paper and maybe the New York Post is a local paper, but they're both in the top five nationally and The Wall Street Journal has a huge amount of its circulation in New York," Copps said.

While the FCC ruled in 1986 that its cross-ownership rules did not apply to USA Today because it was a national newspaper, Copps said that precedent might be outdated.

Jim Puzzanghera and Joseph Menn write for the Los Angeles Times.

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