Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2013 New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has withdrawn his predecessor’s proposal to relax a longstanding ban on ownership of both a newspaper and a broadcaster in the same large metropolitan market.

An FCC official said that the decision of Tom Wheeler would allow the agency to take a fresh look at whether the rule still makes sense.

Wheeler’s predecessor, Julius Genachowski, proposed lifting the ban in November 2012. But a majority of the commissioners could not agree on how to proceed.

This year, the commission agreed to delay a decision so that a group representing minority owners of media outlets could prepare a study on how lifting the ban would affect media ownership by African-Americans, Hispanics, women and other groups, which the commission has tried to promote.

Since then, two of the commission’s five members, including Genachowski, have been replaced.

Although he withdrew the proposal, Wheeler has given no indication whether he favors the current restrictions or would lift them.

The proposal, which would have applied to the 20 largest media markets only, came out of an industry review that the FCC is required by law to undertake every four years. The last such review was in 2010, meaning that the ownership issue would again be part of the commission’s 2014 review.

To “clear the decks,” as one FCC official put it, Wheeler decided that any decision about ownership restrictions would be part of the new study.

The FCC has tried to loosen the ownership rule at least three times in the past decade, an effort that has been strongly supported by large media companies. Supporters of the rule say it is necessary to ensure a diversity of voices in a community.

The study by the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, the group representing the minority owners, concluded that ownership of multiple media outlets in a single city did not affect minority ownership. That conclusion was challenged by some public interest groups, which said that other findings clearly showed the negative effects from a concentration of media ownership.

But with the number of newspapers declining, opponents of the restrictions say that media companies with greater resources could help to save some papers by allowing a broadcaster to share its resources.