FCC diversity initiatives

At its meeting today, the FCC decided to revamp its Ownership Report filing process – requiring all stations to file Biennial Ownership Reports on FCC Form 323 on November 1 of this year – even stations that have just filed those reports in the normal course in the last few months.  All stations will have to file every two years thereafter – on November 1 of every other year.  Reports will also be required from Low Power TV stations and Class A TV stations, which have not in the past had to file reports.  Reports will also be required from stations that are owned by an individual, and by general partnerships in which all of the partners are individuals (or, in the FCC’s legalese, "natural persons").  In the past, such stations did not have to file reports as any change in ownership would have required, at a minimum, the filing of a Form 316 short-form assignment or transfer application.  Finally, the Commission will require the reporting of the interests of currently non-attributable owners who are not attributable simply because there is a single majority shareholder in the licensee.

The FCC is not asking for this information because it wants to track improper transfers, but instead so that it can gather information about the racial and gender make-up of the broadcast ownership universe.  This information has been required on ownership reports for the last ten years, but the FCC did not believe that the system was extensive enough to capture all information about the ownership of broadcast properties, as so many stations were not covered by the requirements.  Why does the FCC want racial and gender information about the owners of stations?  To potentially take more aggressive actions to encourage minority ownership.  The FCC has considered such actions in the past, but has not felt that it take actions specifically targeted to minority and female applicants, as there was no record of past discrimination in the broadcast industry.  The government can constitutionally only make racial or gender-based decisions if these decisions are to remedy the effects of past discrimination.  To justify such acts, the government agency must demonstrate the past discrimination – and these new filing requirements are meant to gather that information through what is called an Adarand study.  In the recent past, when it adopted certain diversity initiatives for designated entities (like the ability of a designated entity to buy an expiring construction permit and get an extension, which we recently wrote about here), the Commission had to define a designated entity as a "small business" defined by SBA standards.  Chairman Copps today said that this definition did not truly benefit diversity as favoring small businesses "generally benefit white males."


Continue Reading FCC to Require New Ownership Reports from all Commerical Broadcasters on November 1

As 2007 wound to an end, advertising issues figured prominently on the agenda of Washington agencies, including both the FCC and the FTC.  While the FCC is looking at specific regulatory requirements governing broadcast advertising, the FTC is investigating the privacy issues raised by advertising conducted by on-line companies.  In November, the FTC held a two day set of workshops and panels where interested parties discussed issues of behavioral advertising – advertising that can be targeted to individuals based on their history of Internet use, and whether or not regulation of these practices was necessary.  The wide-ranging discussion is summarized on our firm’s Privacy and Security Blog, here.  After gathering this testimony, we will see if the FTC decides to proceed to propose any regulations dealing with this sort of personalized, on-line advertising.

At the FCC, there are two separate proceedings dealing with advertising issues for broadcasters.  The first came about as part of the FCC’s diversity initiatives adopted at its December meeting.  There, the Commission determined that broadcasters will need to certify in their renewal applications that they have not discriminated in their advertising practices.  While this proposal was adopted at the Commission’s December 18 meeting, the full text of the decision has yet to be released, so we do not know the specifics of this new requirement.


Continue Reading Advertising Issues on Washington’s Agenda for 2008