Copps: Get more reads on WSJ deal

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WASHINGTON -- The FCC's senior Democrat is pushing the agency's Republican chairman to open a special proceeding to investigate issues surrounding News Corp.'s $5.6 billion purchase of the Wall Street Journal.

Citing the deal's impact on "localism, diversity and competition" in the New York market, commissioner Michael Copps told chairman Kevin Martin that the deal deserved special attention.

"I believe that the FCC's obligation to consider the public interest -- which the agency has traditionally defined as localism, diversity and competition -- requires us to consider the implications of a merger between these two media giants," Copps wrote in a letter Thursday. "Indeed, the FCC has never had occasion to receive comment or do research on the important public-interest issues raised by a national network owning one or more newspapers that are read across the nation or a company already operating under waivers of the newspaper cross-ownership ban acquiring a second newspaper published in that locality."

Copps has been one of the leading critics of the FCC's drive to allow media companies to get bigger. He voted against the commission's 2003 decision to relax the nation's media-ownership restrictions and has led the current effort to ensure the commission doesn't do the same thing later this year. The commission's 2003 decision was thrown out by the courts.

Martin has said he wants to wrap the current proceeding by Dec. 18, but he faces opposition by Copps and fellow Democratic commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.

Congressional leaders including Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Reps. John Dingell, D-Mich., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., also have pushed Martin to slow down.

It has been unclear whether the FCC can say anything about the deal as the rules appear to be silent concerning a broadcast company buying a "national" newspaper, as would be the case in the current deal.

While there appear to be no commission barriers, an earlier decision seemed to proscribe commission action.

Copps said those decisions shouldn't come into play in this case.

"I do not believe that this line of precedent should preclude the FCC from conducting a thorough analysis of the proposed Wall Street Journal acquisition," he wrote. "These antiquated orders are no foundation on which to build a media policy for the 21st century. Moreover, whatever one thinks about the wisdom of those earlier decisions on their merits, they clearly involve facts and public-interest concerns dramatically different than those before us now."

A spokeswoman for Martin's office declined comment, saying the chairman had just received the letter.
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