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MEDIA COMPANIES HAIL FCC RULE-CHANGE; FEW ACT First movement in Alaska, where MediaNews says it will buy TV station.

At 3276 miles (as the crow flies), you probably can't get much further from Washington, D.C., and Fairbanks, Alaska, and still be in the continental United States. But the first place that last week's decision relaxing broadcast and newspaper cross-ownership rules was felt was the town in North Star Borough.

Following Monday's Federal Communications Commission hearing in which commissioners voted 3-2 to relax six rules governing a variety of media ownership issues -- not the least of which was one that prevented the same company from owning both the newspaper and a broadcast property in the same market -- executives at MediaNews Group Inc. of Denver, which controls Fairbanks' Daily News-Miner, said the company would likely purchase KTVF, Channel 11, in Fairbanks.

"This is not a revolutionary change. It's one of cooperation more than it is of consolidation," the paper quoted William Dean Singleton -- the co-chairman and chief executive officer of MediaNews -- as saying. Singleton's company has had an option to buy the TV station for several years, pending the outcome of an FCC ruling.

The station is currently owned by Clear Channel Communications -- the largest radio broadcaster in the country -- which also owns four of Fairbanks' six radio stations.

Singleton, last year's chairman of the Newspaper Association of America, testified before both Congress and the FCC in favor of the broadcast-newspaper ownership rule change.

"The critics [of the changes] essentially used a Chicken Little approach that the sky is falling," Singleton told the News-Miner shortly after the FCC vote. "But they failed to bring any facts to the party. The critics used their emotion to do the talking and FCC used the facts."

Singleton was not the only newspaper executive to sing the praises of the FCC.

Robert Dechard -- chairman, president and chief executive officer of Belo Corp., a multimedia company with 19 TV stations and four daily newspapers including the Dallas Morning News -- said in a statement, "Broadcasters and publishers are now able to take advantage of operating efficiencies and synergies that facilitate their ability to provide local communities with enhanced news, information, and other public interest content."

Dechard also pointed out the amount of time and energy the FCC has devoted to the ownership rules has diverted it from other responsibilities, "such as completing the transition to digital television including essential must-carry rules."

One of the industry's leading proponents of convergence -- the practice of combining the news operations of print, broadcast and web operations -- also hailed the ruling. "Local news is expensive to produce and television stations in markets of all sizes are curtailing or eliminating local news," said J. Stewart Bryan III, the chairman and chief executive of Media General Inc., which owns 26 TV stations in the Southeast, as well as 25 daily newspapers, including Florida's Tampa Tribune and Virginia's Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In a statement, Bryan then criticized the commission for limiting newspaper and broadcast cross-ownership to only larger markets. "If the new rule stands, more local news will be lost in smaller markets," said Bryan.

Tribune Co., which had a number of interests involved in the six rules that were changed, released the statement of Dennis Fitzsimmons, president and chief executive, saying, "The media landscape has dramatically changed -- consumers have more choices for news, information and entertainment than ever before. The FCC's action today recognizes these changes."

Pure-play newspaper companies didn't rush out press releases following the rulings, but some intrepid reporters were able to get statements. Gary Pruitt, chairman and chief executive of The McClatchy Co., told his company's Sacramento Bee that McClatchy has no current plans to acquire any TV stations and that it wouldn't be interested in selling any of its 11 papers either. "We like all our newspapers, and we want to keep them," Pruitt told the Bee.

James Cramer -- stock fund manager, TV personality and founder of -- wrote on the web site he founded that the argument that the FCC rule changes would decrease the number of voices in the world was a "total canard." He went on to say that FCC Chairman Michael Powell "Did not wake up one day and say, You know what? We have to have more concentration.'" Cramer said that Powell did wake up one day and postulated that he said, "The D.C. Court of Appeals, under which I operate, has decided that these media rules are out of date given the explosion of new outlets and resources, so I better change the rules to better reflect what my bosses on that court are saying." I never thought I'd agree with James Cramer.
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 9, 2003
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