Washington

Editorial: All Representatives Are Busy

3/04/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Pardon us if, metaphorically at least, B&C puts its head in its
hands and starts rummaging through the medicine chest for a
couple of ibuprofens.

Consider that our response to the fact that there
will be a several-more-months delay in the several-years-delayed action on FCC media ownership
rules. It was probably politically unavoidable, but
that doesn’t reduce the pounding in the temples.

It was only a week ago that FCC commissioner
Ajit Pai was talking about the problem of government
decisions taking years in a world that moves
at the lightning speed of broadband.

Putting an exclamation point on all this was
B&C’s discovery—with thanks to super-reporter
Deborah McAdams of our sibling brand, TV Technology
that the FCC was quietly submitting rules
to the Federal Register for publication that should
have been submitted a decade or more ago.

Then came last week’s news that the FCC, and
just about everybody else, is OK with delaying a
vote on modest media ownership changes until an
outside study on the impact of those changes on
diversity of ownership can be completed.

Admittedly, it was hard for any stakeholder to just
say no, since it would look like they were against
ownership diversity, which we hope nobody is.

The Minority Media & Telecommunications
Council’s request for the time-out while it conducts
that study is actually a political plus for a
number of the stakeholders. It gives FCC chairman
Julius Genachowski a chance to shore up the
three Democratic votes he wants for the ownership
item, and it will make it easier to defend in
court since this decision, whenever it is made,
will be taken to court just like the last one.

Genachowski wanted to vote the item by the end
of last year, but ran into pushback from minority
groups concerned about the impact on diversity.
The chairman appeared to have been taken by surprise
by that response, though others were anticipating
it as soon as they saw his proposal.

The delay also gives broadcasters more time to
try to affect the outcome. While they have been attempting
to get a decision out of the FCC for years,
the current version is hardly their idea of regulatory
relief. It does not lift the ban on TV cross-ownership.
In fact, Genachowski went out of his way
last week to suggest the ban isn’t even loosened.
Technically, that is correct. The ban would be in
place, but it would be relaxed for combinations of
newspapers and TV stations in the top 20 markets,
but outside the top-four-ranked stations.

That is hardly the relief broadcasters were
seeking. And it could come packaged with
counting some TV joint sales agreements—those
where one station sells at least 15% of ad inventory
for another—against local ownership caps.
That would be welcome news to some cable operators.
But for broadcasters, it
would make a yes vote on ownership
a mighty costly victory.

At the risk of sounding like
a broken record—strike that,
CD—strike that, download—
Genachowski’s two predecessors
as chairman, and his former boss
(also a chairman) have said there
is no justi!cation for the newspaper/
cross-ownership ban. And
that was before the Internet was
the game-changer it is today.

Genachowski even suggested
as much last week in announcing
the delay. In explaining his
ownership proposal, he said it was based in part
on “the growth of the Internet,” which he said is
“changing the media landscape, including the
economics of local newspapers and broadcasters.”
That would seem a no-brainer, but the FCC
has been reluctant to include the Internet in
conversations about competitiveness of media
markets. Genachowski’s emphasis that the crossownership
ban remain—only the waiver has been
changed—doesn’t square with the current market.

The problem then becomes that after the government
has taken an eternity to rule, the result
is usually sufficiently insuf!cient that nobody is
happy. So stakeholders on both sides take it to
court, delaying a decision even further.

And beyond the issues themselves, we are again
frustrated by the process—a combination of regulatory
tortoise-like movement and the Groundhog
Day cycle of court challenges that means broadcasters
operate in a state of endless regulatory uncertainty.
Did we say two ibuprofens? We meant three.

Put all this together with Congress’ budget dysfunction
affecting all of us—broadcasters, cable
operators, magazine editors—and you have a government
whose problems can’t be wished away.

 

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