McDowell: FCC Must Resist Limiting JSAs

In speech to MMTC, says he is among those dissatisfied with FCC diversity efforts to date
Author:
Publish date:

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell Wednesday
took aim at a proposal to extend the FCC's attribution rules to some TV joint
sales agreements, saying they increase diversity; called on the commission to
conclude diversity studies that have yet to see the light of day, and suggested
the newspaper-TV crossownership restrictions limit diversity in the name of
preserving it.

That
is according to a copy of a speech to the Minority Media &
Telecommunications Council conference in Washington in which he counts
himself among those unsatisfied with the FCC's diversity efforts of late.

FCC
Chairman Julius Genachowski's proposed media ownership rule changes include
loosening, but not scrapping the newspaper-TV crossownership rules, and a
proposal to make some JSAs count toward local market ownership caps, as they
do for radio.

McDowell
said the FCC "must resist calls for limiting, and therefore discouraging,
the use of joint sales, shared service, and local news service
agreements." He said he has been told by "many broadcasters"
that shared arrangements have both directly and indirectly helped women and
minority-owned stations to "enter markets and improve programming."

McDowell
called on the FCC to complete court-ordered diversity studies -- a Groundhog Day-like moment since
it echoed a call he has made repeatedly at the MMTC venue. That will allow the
FCC to proceed with the six -- of 13 -- diversity initiatives McDowell helped
adopt in 2007 but were remanded back to the commission for better
justification.

"[A]s
a matter of good government, the Commission must initiate and conclude the
diversity studies, which are required by law," he said. "I sense that
the Third Circuit would greatly appreciate us doing that!" He emphasized
that the FCC's actions must satisfy the strict scrutiny test for race- or
gender-based initiatives," but that it was time to get that done.
"Simply put, the Commission cannot delay these actions any longer,"
he said.

And
in the meantime, he said, the FCC should pursue some race-neutral diversity
efforts including launching incubator programs and better connecting women and
minorities with financing via workshops and mentoring.

But
unlike some diversity advocates, McDowell does not feel that the FCC must delay
loosening ownership rules. "A growing body of evidence indicates that this
obsolete rule is actually producing the opposite result of its intended effect
by exacerbating the demise of diverse voices that provide local news and
information," he said. "It makes no sense to me that, in cities such
as Chicago where several daily newspapers serving
local ethnic communities proliferate, the ban prevents minorities and women
from distributing content across all platforms -- all in the name of
diversity." He called it a defenseless policy out of touch with the
marketplace.

The
FCC has yet to vote on the media ownership rule changes. It is not under a lot
of pressure to do so from broadcasters since simply loosening the
cross-ownership rules is pretty much a half a loaf at best, served up with the
castor oil of JSA limits. And on the other side, the FCC is getting a lot of
pushback from minority groups arguing it should not vote the item -- and loosen
the regs any -- without collecting better info on diversity.

Related