FCC Expands Minority Ownership Data Collection

Copps says order is "music to the ears" of those who want to change "shameful state of affairs"

As advertised, acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps has begun laying the data foundation for boosting minority and female ownership of broadcast properties. Copps said that the order may seem to be all about data, but that it should be "music to the ears of anyone who cares about reversing the shameful state of affairs in which we find ourselves."

Copps has said he wanted to tee up the issue of minority ownership for his successor, and did so Wednesday at the commission's April public meeting.

"The data we compile will provide the raw material for the Adarand studies and the other analyses we will need to have to sustain a program of meaningful action," Copps said in a statement. "It will mean that if we have to go to court to defend far-reaching policy changes-and, unfortunately, we undoubtedly will-we will have solidly-based legal underpinnings to justify our actions."

The order released Wednesday expands and "improves" the FCC's data collection. "Currently the Commission does not possess reliable data on the precise status of minority and female ownership," said the order, "data that we will need to establish and maintain effective policies over time that the courts will insist upon if the Commission chooses to pursue more race- or gender-based approaches."

Among the many changes to the current Form 323 data drop is removing reporting exemptions for some full-power stations and adding low-powers to the list of those who must file ownership info. The FCC said
continuing to exclude low powers, "overlooks a potentially significant group of minority and female owners," a point the low-power lobby has long made in arguing for carriage and DTV transition help from the FCC.

The FCC will also expand reporting behind those with attributable interest to include minority interests that would be attributable were there not a higher debt/equity threshold for "eligible entities," which can include minorities and women.

The reporting change does not change the attribution rules, however.

The order sets a uniform, biennial filing date of Nov. 1, starting this year, and authorizes the Media Bureau to hold random audits for accuracy of reporting.

The FCC also sought comment on some proposed changes for noncommercial stations' reports, including whether to require gender and racial/ethnic information; how to define ownership; whether they should have to conform to the same biennial filing date, and how to minimize the burden if their reporting requirements are expanded.

Fellow Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein supported the order enthusiastically. Republican Robert McDowell supported it with some reservations, saying he wanted to hear about any possible negative affects of the changes.