Senators Ask FCC to Hold Off on Ownership Vote
None of the commissioners have yet voted the item, including the chairman
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/30/2012 3:23:08 PM
In a letter to Genachowski dated Nov. 30, nine senators asked the chairman not to proceed with any rule changes without providing "clear, evidence-based response" to concerns about the impact of those changes on diversity of ownership.
They say the response that is necessary to comply with a federal court and would be responsive to "significant public objection." A number of minority groups, media activists and unions have asked the FCC to hold off on a vote until the diversity impact is better gauged. Free Press has threatened to sue the FCC if it votes before collecting more input.
The chairman said in a press conference after the commission's public meeting Friday that the commission had been collecting comment and public input for a couple of years, though he did not say definitively that a vote would be wrapped up by the end of the year, as he had previously indicated. Instead, he said the commission would move "as fast as we can."
At presstime, FCC watchers were not convinced there would be a vote by year's end given the growing pushback.
The proposed changes, according to numerous sources, include loosening the newspaper/TV station cross-ownership rule, lifting limits entirely on newspaper/radio and TV/radio cross-ownerships, and counting some joint sales agreements -- those involving selling over 15% of another station's airtime -- toward local ownership caps the FCC is not lifting or modifying.
The senators, which include Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Al Franken (Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Tom Harkin (Iowa), said the current media ownership rules have been a "bulwark" against mass consolidation.
Pointing to FCC figures showing minority media ownership at what they called "abysmally low levels," they said the impact of the changes on those levels had not been sufficiently analyzed per a Third Circuit Court order.
Broadcasters' ears were burning as the senators pointed to the importance of that medium as a reason why raising those levels of minority ownership was so important.
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