SBA takes aim against radio deregulation

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The Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy is calling on the
Federal Communications Commission to retain radio-ownership rules that promote
diversity among station owners and points of view expressed over the
airwaves.

"Something would be lost in the shift from many small broadcasters to a few
big broadcasters," the advocacy office told the FCC. "That `something' is
viewpoint diversity."

The office urged the FCC to continue conducting separate public-interest
reviews of radio mergers beyond simple compliance with numerical ownership
limits.

The office's advice was submitted in the reply round of the FCC's review of
its radio-merger policies.

The advocacy office is charged with reviewing the impact proposed regulatory
changes will have on small business.

The FCC is trying to decide whether to revise its ownership rules limiting
the number of stations one company can own in a local market. The limits are
based on a sliding scale according to market size. In the largest markets, one
company may own eight stations.

The FCC is also trying to figure out how to resolve its "flagging" policy
that places radio mergers under an extra layer of review when one company would
control 50 percent of a market's ad revenue or two companies control 70 percent.

The FCC has no set policy for resolving flagged deals.

The Media Institute, an industry think tank, called on the FCC to eliminate
the flagging policy and the goal of viewpoint diversity.

"Given the unique characteristics of the radio industry ... diversity should
be defined in a very simple way: `lots of radio stations offering lots of
different formats,'" the institute said.

The institute said viewpoint diversity is no longer important for radio
because it has become "a medium primarily of music and entertainment, rather
than of news and public affairs."

Additionally, increased multiple ownership may promote format diversity
because group owners seek to differentiate the audience of each station, the
Media Institute said.

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