Using a carefully crafted PR campaign -- including an op-ed in the New York Times -- Chairman Martin has portrayed his proposal as a "moderate compromise" that would only allow one company to own both a daily newspaper and a broadcast TV or radio station in the 20 largest media markets.
But Devil in the Details exposes how the loose and ambiguous "waiver" standard proposed by Martin creates a giant loophole for big media companies to sidestep the ban in any market and for any station.
"Chairman Martin's double-speak can't disguise the fact that his proposal would gut the cross-ownership ban everywhere," said Derek Turner, research director of Free Press and co-author of the report. "The reality is that Martin's plan is no moderate compromise. If passed, the new rules would unleash unprecedented consolidation across the country."
To stop a merger in the top 20 markets, the burden of proof would rest with average citizens and public interest groups opposing the deal. Outside the top 20 markets, the burden of proof would rest with media companies -- the same companies that control all the information and could make promises that would be almost impossible to enforce.
"Martin's proposal stacks the decks against the public interest," said Marvin Ammori, general counsel of Free Press and co-author of the report. "The expensive and bureaucratic waiver process would pit the limited resources of average American citizens against giant media companies with the money and time to game the system."
As this new report illustrates, Martin's rhetoric can't match the reality that his plan is a massive giveaway to the largest media companies. The 10 facts about the proposal include:
FACT #1: Martin's "modest" proposal is corporate welfare for Big Media. Martin's plan would unleash a buying spree in the top 20 markets, making it easier for companies like Belo, News Corp. and Tribune Co. to push out independent, local owners.
FACT #2: Loopholes open the door to cross-ownership in any market. Under Martin's loose standards, cross-ownership waivers could be approved in hundreds of smaller cities and towns.
FACT #3: Loopholes allow newspapers to own TV stations of any size. The same technicalities could permit top-rated stations in any market to combine with major newspapers.
FACT #4: FCC history shows weak standards won't protect the public. The current rules forbid cross-ownership, but the FCC hasn't denied any temporary waiver request in years.
FACT #5: Cross-ownership doesn't create more local news. The latest studies -- using the FCC's own data -- show that markets with cross-ownership produce less total local news, as one dominant company crowds out the competition.
FACT #6: Cross-ownership won't solve newspapers' financial woes. Claims that the newspaper industry is about to "wither and die" are greatly exaggerated, and no evidence shows that cross-ownership would make things better.
FACT # 7: The Internet is an opportunity, not a death sentence. Mergers and consolidation are not the answer to the financial problems of the traditional media.
FACT #8: Martin's plan would harm minority media owners. Nearly half of the nation's minority-owned TV stations are lower-rated outlets in the top 20 markets, making them a target for Big Media takeovers.
FACT # 9: A broken and corrupt process creates bad policies. The FCC's lack of transparency, flawed research and secret timetable have tossed aside basic fairness and accountability in the rush to change media ownership rules.
FACT # 10: The public doesn't want more media consolidation. Martin's actions ignore the millions of Americans -- and 99 percent of the comments in the FCC docket -- who oppose letting a few media giants swallow up more local media.
"Chairman Martin has demonstrated an unyielding determination to ignore the public will and any evidence that challenges his predetermined conclusions," said Craig Aaron, communications director of Free Press and co-author of the report. "His proposal undermines the FCC's fundamental responsibility to protect competition, localism and diversity over the public airwaves. It's now up to Congress to put the brakes on runaway media consolidation."
Read Devil in the Details: