The FCC has released the agenda for its Workshop on the multiple ownership rules (about which we wrote here). The workshop will span three mornings (November 2-4), and will include live testimony from a different panel each morning. The first panel will include the academic perspective on ownership rules, the second the view from "public interest organizations", and the third from industry representatives, though the participants on that panel are, at this point, the most unsettled. The Commission also requests written comments from the public, which can be filed through November 20. As we wrote when this topic first came up last month, these workshops are the first step in the FCC’s consideration of the multiple ownership rules – a review that it is required to conduct once every 4 years – with 2010 being the year in which such review is required.
The Commission sets out a series of questions that it would like to have addressed. These questions include:
- The FCC is required by statute to consider the rules governing local radio ownership, local television ownership, radio-TV cross-ownership, broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership and the dual network rule. The Commission asks if it should consider other rules in the context of this proceeding.
- In assessing ownership rules, should the Commission treat each rule in isolation, or should it look at all media together and attempt to craft more general rules addressing media consolidation as a whole in relevant markets?
- Should rules that are adopted be "bright line" rules, that limit entities to specific numbers of stations, or should the Commission make a case by case determination of whether a combination is in the public interest, subject to some general principles?
- Should the Commission address the traditional concepts of competition, diversity and localism to this proceeding, or come up with new ways of looking at these concepts, or different concepts to assess ownership goals?
- How should the FCC analyze competition, localism and diversity in today’s marketplace? What are the relevant markets for analysis? What metrics should be used?
- What studies or analysis should the FCC use to inform its decisions on these topics.
It will be fascinating to watch this procedure unfold. When one looks at the panels that the FCC has assembled, you will no doubt see positions being staked out that are at opposite ends of the spectrum. For instance, on the panel of "public interest groups," you will have the former head of the Media Bureau at the time of the FCC’s 2003 Multiple Ownership decision which dramatically loosened ownership restrictions, only to have that relaxation overturned by the Courts, on the same panel as several speakers who seem to oppose consolidation reflexively – no matter where it comes up. How can both poles of the debate be representative of "the public"? If I had to guess, I would bet that the public really falls somewhere in between – not all that concerned about most consolidation as long as it does not severely affect their media choices.
As we have written before, in today’s media world, there has never been so much choice (see, e.g., our articles here and here). The effect of competition from the Internet and other new media must be taken into account in this analysis as it has so profoundly affected the current media landscape. While in 2003, the new media was mentioned as partial justification for the relaxation that was fleetingly adopted, who could have imagined only 6 short years ago, the impact that new media could have on "traditional" media, like the newspaper, once the dominant advertising medium in most local markets and now imperiled in many of those same markets. As we have written before, it is quite possible at this point in time to imagine the rules against media consolidation with newspapers outliving the newspaper itself. One hopes that this is not true for other forms of traditional media as well, though recent articles about the FCC potentially moving toward limiting or ending over-the-air television so that the spectrum can be freed for other uses suggest that there are other moves afoot that undermine concerns about the power of big media as regulated by the FCC. This proceeding is one that all broadcasters should watch carefully, and in which they should participate aggressively, to make sure that your voice is heard when the FCC shapes that rules that will affect media ownership in the next five years – years that may well affect the very survival of many traditional media outlets.