Newspaper lobbyists may lose a moneymaker

By Laurie Bennett

October 20, 2007 at 8:35am

Bad times for newspapers can be good times for newspaper lobbyists.

Major publishers, which often cover K Street as a hotbed of corruption, spend thousands each year to advance and protect their own interests.

Yet one issue that has fueled the Washington media lobby for years may soon disappear. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin has drafted a plan that would abolish rules forbidding companies from owning both a newspaper and broadcast outlets in the same city.

Media companies have fought the rule for years, claiming that it had become outdated and restricted growth at a time when many publishers are struggling. Opponents of the change argue that the flow of information is already controlled by a few large corporations, and that easing the rules would bring further concentration of media ownership.

It appears that Martin has a majority vote among the FCC commissioners. The change would have special import to the Tribune Company because of its pending sale to real estate mogul Sam Zell. The sale hinges on FCC waivers of the cross-ownership provisions, allowing Tribune to own newspapers and TV stations in five markets.

Tribune reported spending more than $87,000 on lobbying in the first half of 2007. Lobby firm Quinn Gillespie collected $20,000 from the company for activities regarding the sale.

But Tribune isn’t the only publisher paying for government access. Gannett has hired both Wiley Rein and Covington & Burling. Covington attorney Gerard Waldron, former senior counsel to the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications, has focused on the cross-ownership issue for Gannett.

Belo spent $315,000 on lobbying in first six months of 2007. The cross-ownership rule was one of its concerns, along with the shield law and telecomm regulations.

Cox Enterprises spent $2 million in the same period, listing the rules as one item on a longer agenda. News Corp. followed close behind, with $1.7 million in lobbying expenses. Company chairman Rupert Murdoch has been one of the most vocal critics of the ownership restrictions.

The New York Times Company has not reported any lobbying expenses for 2007. The Times, of course, enjoys all sorts of connections. Former FCC chairman William E. Kennard sits on the Times board.

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