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Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Eliminate Newspaper-Broadcast Ownership Rule

Variety logo Variety 12/7/2016 Ted Johnson
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Legislation was introduced on Wednesday to eliminate a 41-year-old ban on common ownership of a newspaper and radio or TV station in the same market.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), are co-authors of the legislation to repeal the ban.

The broadcast and newspaper industries have long argued that the ban is outdated, particularly as daily publications struggle in a market with shrinking ad dollars and declining print subscribers.

The FCC has kept the ban in place despite reviews of media ownership rules, including ones completed this past summer.  Media companies can still obtain waivers, and FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said that exceptions could be made for failing entities.

“Eliminating this relic of the disco era will provide much needed flexibility to the many newspapers and broadcasters throughout the country that provide important local news coverage and encourage greater investment in original journalism,” Walden said in a statement. “We want what’s best for consumers and this bill provides a thoughtful solution that puts the public’s interest first.”

Yarmuth put the legislation in the context of one of the major issues facing journalism — the rise of fake news that has been spread through social media. Even Pope Francis has weighed in on the dangers of misinformation.

“As we’ve seen the rise in fake news and its consequences, it is increasingly important that we do all we can to protect legitimate sources of news,” Yarmuth said. “This legislation would give media entities the flexibility they need to compete and grow in this challenging marketplace.”

The legislation could be a prelude to further deregulation, given the Republican majority in the next Congress and the incoming Trump administration. Republicans will have a majority of the commissioners on the FCC.

Gordon Smith, the president of the National Association of Broadcasters, said in a statement that “for too long, radio and television broadcasters have been saddled with archaic regulations preventing them from investing in newspaper ownership. Striking this cross-ownership ban would save journalism jobs, create more investigative reporting and provide communities with greater local news.”

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