Broadcasters BackOwnership Vote Delay

Say FCC should allow time for results of diversity impact study
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Broadcasters who have been waiting years for some regulatory relief from the FCC will have to wait a while longer—and that, apparently, is OK with them, given the reason.

The Minority Media & Telecommunications Council has asked the FCC for a “brief” delay in a vote on the FCC ’s consideration of media ownership, and the National Association of Broadcasters backs the idea. The Newspaper Association of America also favors a move FCC chairman Julius Genachowski called, “a sensible approach to moving forward and resolving the issues raised in this proceeding.”

According to a senior FCC official, the delay also makes strategic sense for the commission since it may help the item get enough votes for passage and boost its chances in court.

The stay would push off a vote by at least a couple more months, perhaps longer. The FCC has appeared in no hurry to vote the item anyway.

In a letter to the commissioners, the MMTC requested the delay so it could conduct a study on the impact of the rules on minority and women ownership.

The study would be undertaken by BIA/ Kelsey and peer reviewed. “The study’s methodology is designed so that the final report should be completed, peer reviewed and submitted to the commission for its consideration within eight weeks of today,” MMTC said. Then the FCC would have to vet it as well, with Genachowski either modifying his proposal or concluding it was sufficient as is.

The media ownership vote has been delayed for some time already due to concerns about the impact of loosening newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership regulations on diverse ownership.

Genachowski has proposed loosening the ban on newspaper/TV cross-ownership and lifting it on newspaper/radio cross-ownership. The chairman pushed for a vote by the end of last year. But minority groups pushed back, pointing out that the FCC had yet to complete diversity studies in response to a Third Circuit Court of Appeals remand of diversity initiatives. That came as part of an attempt by former FCC chairman Kevin Martin to loosen the newspaper/TV cross-ownership rules along the same lines.

Broadcasters have been looking for action on media ownership out of the FCC for years. But they have lately not been pushing too hard for a vote, given that they think loosening rather than lifting the TV/newspaper cross-ownership ban adds up to barely half a loaf; they also weren’t really pushing on radio/newspaper at all.

The FCC proposal also includes counting some joint sales agreements toward local ownership caps, something that likely has three votes on the commission and is also something broadcasters don’t want to see happen.

“The National Association of Broadcasters reviewed MMTC ’s letter and agrees that there is potential merit in additional datagathering regarding minority ownership,” NAB executive VP and general counsel Jane Mago wrote in a letter to the FCC on Feb. 25. “Accordingly, NAB does not oppose MMTC’s suggestion that the commission defer action…pending its review of the results of MMTC ’s study.”

Separately, the FCC issued a public notice seeking comment on a proposal by the Coalition for Broadcast Investment (of which the MMTC is a founding member) that the commission look at proposals to allow more than 25% foreign ownership in a broadcast property on a case-by-case basis rather than the de facto 25% cap.

MMTC has argued that is yet another way to boost media diversity.

E-mail comments to jeggerton@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @eggerton

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