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FCC Chair Holds Line on Newspaper, Network Mergers


FCC rules prohibit ownership of two stations in a market unless at least eight stations will be held by different owners. That effectively bars TV duopolies in all but the largest markets. In markets where duopolies are permitted, only one of the stations in the pair may be among the four top-rated.

Under Wheeler's proposed changes, any station owner that sells 15% or more of the advertising time in another owner's station through a JSA would have to count that station toward its tally of properties in that market. He also wants to forbid the creation of more JSAs that violate ownership rules and require existing ones to be terminated after two years.

The fate of SSAs will be subject to public comment, but the chairman's tentative approach would be to limit or eliminate SSAs too. How waivers would be granted to existing JSAs that produce a threshold amount of local news and that include minority ownership is unclear.

The network merger restriction prevents mergers between ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox and has not been subject to much controversy.

Regarding the FCC's newspaper cross-ownership restrictions, current rules permit common ownership of newspapers and TV stations in the top 20 markets if the TV station is not ranked among the top four stations in the market, and at least eight independent "major media voices" remain after the combination. Common ownership of newspapers and radio stations is generally permitted in top 20 markets.

In smaller markets, common ownership between newspapers and broadcast outlets is generally barred unless the proposed combination generates at least seven hours a week of additional local news programming or "the newspaper and broadcast outlet qualifies as failed or failing."

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