We wrote in December about the delays in the FCC’s proceeding to consider whether changes should be made to its multiple ownership rules. The December delays were to allow for public comment on ownership information obtained from broadcasters in their Form 323 Ownership Reports. Specifically, the public was asked to comment on the what the ownership information revealed about ownership of broadcast properties by members of minority groups, and whether proposed reforms in the ownership rules would affect minority ownership. Comments from certain public interest groups suggested that any relaxation of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules or the rules limiting radio-TV cross-ownership would further adversely affect minority ownership, a position that seemingly made certain of the FCC Commissioners reluctant to approve any changes in the ownership rules. This week, the Commission announced another delay in any resolution of this proceeding as the MMTC (the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council) has commissioned a study of the impact of any further consolidation in media ownership on minority broadcast operators.
The study, to be conducted by the broadcast financial analysis firm BIA Kelsey, is supposed to be conducted quickly – in the next 60 days. It is also supposed to be peer reviewed to analyze its methodology and conclusions, and will probably be subject to further public comment at the FCC once it is filed in the record of the multiple ownership proceeding. So this means that there will be likely no decision as to changes in the ownership rules for at least 3 or 4 months – and perhaps longer.
From the public reports on the delay, this study will look at newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, as well as radio-TV cross-ownership. In both areas, the FCC had suggested in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (summarized here) that the rules be liberalized. The study apparently will not look at TV Joint Sales or Shared Services Agreements, another area of controversy in this proceeding.
Chairman Genachowski released a statement announcing the delay. He’s reportedly trying to reach consensus between the other Democratic commissioners and the Republicans as to what changes can be made in the rules – and seemingly hopes that the study will provide more information that may lead to common ground. Republican Commissioner McDowell, on the other hand, stated that he wished that the proceeding could be resolved more quickly, and that changes in the rules could be made, but nevertheless supported the study if it would lead to a resolution of the proceeding. Commissioner Clyburn alsoapplauded the study, though not indicating any position on where it might lead. Of course, that may not be possible, as at least one "public interest" group has already issued a press release applauding the delay in any changes to the rules, but seemingly critical of the study, suggesting that its results will not change their mind as to the need for changes in the rules. Will this further study ultimately resolve anything? Only time will tell.