PBS, NPR: FCC Should Reverse Reporting Requirement

Say it is arbitrary, capricious and must be reversed

A phalanx of noncommercial broadcasting entities is asking the FCC to reconsider and reverse a January order that was billed as improving the data collected from broadcasters to help the commission analyze ownership and diversity issues.

The bottom line, said the FCC back in January, is that the moves would improve the reliability and comprehensiveness of its media ownership data, including on diversity and including noncommercial station reporting to more closely square with commercial.

In comments in support of a petition for reconsideration filed by some noncoms, America's Public Television Stations, PBS, CPB, and NPR all said the FCC's decision to require members of noncommercial TV (and radio) governing boards to disclose "highly sensitive personal information" is "ill-founded and must be reconsidered."

Per the Administrative Procedures Act, arbitrary and capricious regulations can be thrown out by a court and the noncoms say the FCC's regs are just that. Despite comments from more than 100 NCE (noncommercial educational) stations, citing the burdens on volunteers and public officials who make up most of the governing boards, individuals with no equity stake in the stations to balance against privacy and data security concerns, the order "inexplicably" discounts those. "Instead, the Commission rests solely on its own 'belief' that the predicted harms will not come to pass. This falls woefully short of the Commission’s fundamental obligations under Section 706 of the Administrative Procedure Act, which courts have long construed to require that agencies have some empirical basis in their rulemaking records to justify the decisions made."

Their main point is that the basic ownership-tracking purposes of the reference numbers tied to that information is not relevant to noncom TV and radio stations. "The FCC has no statutory authority to burden noncommercial licensees with disclosure obligations that Congress designed to serve policy goals relevant only to commercial stations," they told the FCC

The noncoms also say the FCC does not have the authority to require board members to give up the info and "wholly lacks the evidentiary support it needs to justify these regulatory burdens."

They also argue the FCC does not appear to "fully appreciate" the data noncoms are already providing to CPB on diverse programming. To the degree the FCC requests for the personal info "are rooted in analyzing the connection, if any, between the diversity of station leadership (and other employees) and the diversity of programming content, potentially relevant information is available for analysis. There is no need for the Commission to gather more data before it evaluates the data already collected."