The curious thing about Julius Genachowski‘s tenure as FCC chairman is that he’s been a virtuoso in dealing with broadband issues but tone deaf when it comes to traditional media. Case in point: Look at all the people he has infuriated with his attempt to make it easier for a company to own a TV station and major newspaper in the same city. (A proposal Genachowski circulated would put the burden on the FCC to show why it should block a cross-ownership arrangement in the 20 largest markets.) The effort is tailor-made for Rupert Murdoch. He’s kicking the tires at The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune — two cities where Fox also owns TV stations. That has foes of media consolidation seeing red. “We cannot live in a vibrant democracy unless people get divergent sources of information,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) said yesterday. “I intend to do everything I can to prevent this proposal from going forward.” That effort has momentum. This week Genachowski — under pressure from Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a potential swing vote on the five-member commission — said he’d accept more public comment on media ownership rules, pushing any decision into January at the earliest. Some of Genachowski’s most vigorous supporters tell me that they believe he blew it: If opponents effectively use the time to rally others to speak out against the plan, it’s probably toast.
Still, the battle continues. News Corp lobbyists met with FCC staffers last week to argue for a relaxation of the cross-ownership rules. According to their FCC filing summarizing the discussion, Murdoch’s team believes that the largest media markets “are unquestionably diverse and competitive enough.” Without more investment in newspapers we could see “ongoing erosion of robust journalism, harming both localism and diversity in markets across the country.” Public interest advocates point to a story this week in The Economist that says the newspaper business is still profitable and has begun to stabilize. What’s more, they say, there are plenty of potential investors such as Warren Buffett who are stepping up to support newsrooms without worrisome concerns that they might monopolize local news and advertising.