Surprise! Media Ownership Vote Is DelayedNow likely will not happen until after first of the year, at earliest 12/10/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern
It looks like the FCC will not vote on media ownership rules changes until
January at the earliest, after chairman Julius Genachowski decided to allow for more
time to weigh in on the FCC’s recently released study on the state of media ownership,
specifically ownership by women and minorities.
Plenty of people might have understandably been
shocked to see the vote happen in 2012. But after five
years of challenges, court remands and FCC reviews, it
looked only a few weeks ago as if the FCC would finally
take action to provide at least some regulatory relief.
That, however, was before a major pushback from some
traditional friends of Democratic FCC chairmen.
Genachowski had said earlier this year that he wanted
to see the commission’s quadrennial review of its ownership
rules voted by year’s end. He circulated an item that
would have loosened the newspaper/broadcast crossownership
ban in the top 20 markets, though with a
presumption against mergers among a “major paper” and
one of the top four stations. It would also have lifted limits
on newspaper/radio and radio/TV cross-ownership.
But after the item was circulated, Genachowski started
to hear reactions from minority groups, labor unions
and Hill Democrats, all traditional allies of a Democratic
Their issues were twofold: that any further deregulation
was too much, and that the FCC had failed to
complete planned ownership diversity studies as directed
by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals when it
remanded similar rule changes by then-FCC chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican,
back to the FCC for better justification.
They were also troubled that Genachowski circulated the ownership item for a
vote rather than schedule it for a public meeting. Also at issue: the idea that loosening
the rules could give Rupert Murdoch an early Christmas present of a path
toward purchasing The Los Angeles Times or Chicago Tribune.
While the chairman’s office continued to argue early last week that the FCC had
taken diversity issues into account in its rule changes, and that its proposal would not
necessarily make it easier for top stations to buy major newspapers, the pressure continued
to mount with letters from top Democratic senators calling for the commission
to hold off on a vote and allow for more input and vetting of the impact of the rules
on diversity. One senator even threatened a congressional resolution of disapproval,
though that would be unlikely to pass a Republican-controlled House.
Enter Mignon Clyburn, the first African-American
woman on the FCC, who asked for and got an extra 30
days for public comment on the commission’s biennial
323 ownership report, which was released essentially in
association with the media ownership item. That report
found little overall improvement in media ownership
by women and minorities. And that effectively puts the
media ownership vote on hold as well, since the FCC
used information from that report to inform its media
This extra 30 days of comment means there will be
lawyers working over the Christmas and New Year’s
holidays—the deadlines of Dec. 26 and Jan. 4—unless
the FCC extends this latest comment period. But it also
means Genachowski can provide critics a little more
opportunity to weigh in before the ownership item is
voted on, and perhaps deflect some of the criticism
that the item was being rushed under cover of a vote
Even if the FCC does eventually vote to loosen some
of the rules, a number of FCC sources say they are
concerned that it will, again, not pass muster with the
appeals court if it is challenged. And media advocacy
group Free Press has promised to lodge that challenge
if the item passes as currently constituted.
That challenge likely would mean years more of uncertainty for broadcasters—
though they aren’t too pleased with the item either, since it does not lift the newspaper
cross-ownership ban entirely, does not loosen local market ownership caps
and counts some joint sales agreements toward those ownership caps.
In short, at presstime, broadcasters’ status vis-à-vis what stations and station/newspaper
combinations they will ultimately be able to own remains in limbo. As usual.