minority ownership of broadcast stations

It looks like the FCC’s long-delayed multiple ownership proceeding won’t be decided this summer. The FCC has asked for public comment on the report submitted by the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council ("MMTC") addressing the likely impact on minority ownership of broadcast stations of allowing more media cross-ownership. Moths ago, the FCC delayed the resolution of the proceeding to allow for the submission of this report (see our article here). The issue of minority ownership, and the impact of any ownership deregulation has been one of the big obstacles to any decision in this proceeding. Relaxation of the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership prohibitions have been proposed, and one might think that the preservation of newspapers might be of paramount importance to the FCC.  In fact, the Commission has been concerned about complaints from certain “public interest” groups who fear the impact that such combinations would have on the potential for more minority ownership. So this report was commissioned by MMTC, an organization dedicated to promoting minority ownership in all media. Now that the report has been submitted, the FCC needs to wait for public comment on its findings before any decisions in the ownership proceeding are made. Comments on the report are due on July 22, and Replies can be filed through August 6.

The FCC has already delayed the ownership proceeding at least once while taking comments on minority ownership issues. See our article from December, when the FCC asked for comments on the impact of cross-ownership on the prospects for minority ownership. The call for the December comments was initiated by the release of an FCC summary of minority ownership gleaned from FCC ownership report filings. In filings made in response to the FCC’s December comment deadline, some parties suggested that the findings of the FCC data revealed that minority ownership prospects were bleak, and that cross-ownership would make them bleaker, while others suggested just the opposite. Others contended that the two questions really were not related – that there were other reasons, like the lack of access to capital, that really explained the difficulties that all potential new media entrants have.  The release of the new study is quite likely to prompt a similar response, with comments likely to present a spectrum of opinions. 


Continue Reading FCC Seeks More Comments on the Effect of Newspaper-Broadcast Cross Ownership on Minority Ownership of Broadcast Stations

The FCC’s multiple ownership proceeding was going to be decided at last, before Christmas, or at least that was what was suggested by many news reports as recently as early last week. Published reports suggested that a draft proposal was circulating at the FCC, and that it was expected to be acted on in December – perhaps at or before next week’s open meeting. That timetable now seems to be out the window, as the FCC has asked for additional comments on the summaries of the information gleaned from the FCC Form 323 Ownership Reports as to minority and female ownership of broadcast stations released late last month. The summary of those reports showed low levels of minority ownership in many parts of the broadcasting world. As the Third Circuit’s remand of the last multiple ownership order (which we summarized here) was based in part on the Commission’s failure to address the impact that its minor liberalization of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules would have on minority ownership, this request for additional comments seems addressed, at least in part, to addressing that perceived deficiency.

The request for comments gives a short deadline, with comments due the day after Christmas, and Replies on January 4. This indicates that there still is a push to get the ownership proceeding resolved early next year. With this push on, it seemed like a good time to review some of the more controversial issues likely to be addressed in the upcoming order.

 

The area where the most arguments seem to be centered, and the one most likely to be impacted by the data on minority ownership, is the cross-ownership rules. In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in this proceeding (see our summary here), the Commission proposed dropping the remaining restrictions on radio-television cross-ownership, and relaxing the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership restrictions, which the FCC attempted to do in 2007, only to be rebuffed by the Third Circuit. We have observed how some pundits in Washington have mused that the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership restrictions may well outlive the daily newspaper, and that seems to be the debate now, as advocates of relaxation argue that combinations will help economically challenged newspapers, while also promoting more news on broadcast stations in such combinations. Opponents, on the other hand, fear that combinations will lessen minority ownership in markets – either by foreclosing opportunities for minority buyers, or by buying minority-owned stations. 


Continue Reading Multiple Ownership Decision Delayed – What Issues Are Being Debated?

In 2009, the FCC adopted a uniform deadline for all commercial broadcast licensees to file an FCC Form 323 Biennial Ownership Report.  The due date for that report was supposed to be November 1 of that year, but was postponed until July of 2010 when problems popped up with the new forms.  The next Biennial Ownership reporting date was scheduled to be November 1 of this year (two years after the originally scheduled date for the first report to use the new form) – but the FCC today issued a Public Notice postponing the filing deadline for one month, to December 1.  This delay was justified so as to give broadcasters, especially those with many media interests held in different companies, more time to complete what can be a cumbersome process of filling out all of the reports and exhibits that need to be submitted.  Reports need to be filed by December 1, but all information still needs to be reported as of October 1 of this year – a standard reporting date that will remain constant each year to give the FCC a snapshot of the composition of ownership in the broadcast world.

The revised ownership report filing processwas adopted so that the FCC could get an accurate report on the ownership of broadcast properties by minorities and women, a goal that has taken on added significance in light of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Prometheus Radio Project v FCC, rejecting the FCC’s efforts to diversify ownership in the media through the use of a system giving preferences to qualified entities, i.e. small businesses.  As we wrote last month, the Court found that the FCC’s goal was to promote minority and female ownership, which was not fostered by its concentration on small businesses.  One of the issues on which the Court faulted the FCC was the lack of information about the current broadcast ownership interests of minorities and women, so that the FCC could do a "Adarand study" as to whether there are effects of past discrimination reflected in the current ownership of broadcast stations that need to be remedied by affirmative action efforts based on race or gender.  These new ownership reports are designed to help to provide that information.


Continue Reading FCC Extends Filing Date to December 1 for 2011 Form 323 Biennial Ownership Report – New Significance After Prometheus Court Decision

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has once again questioned the FCC’s determinations on broadcast ownership issues. In a decision just published, Prometheus Radio Project v FCC, the Court reviewed the FCC’s 2007 actions relaxing the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules and adopting policies to increase diversity in broadcast ownership.  These FCC decisions had followed a prior decision of the Third Circuit determining that the FCC’s 2003 Ownership Order, relaxing many FCC ownership rules, was not adequately justified.  The FCC’s subsequent actions on cross ownership were set out in its 2007 order, relaxed the newspaper broadcast cross ownership rules in larger markets through a policy based on certain presumptions that, when met, justified the common ownership of newspapers and radio and television stations in larger markets (and, in some cases, in smaller markets too)( see our summary of this order here and here).  The diversity order, released in 2008 (summarized here and here), adopted a number of rules and policies meant to encourage diversity in media ownership.  In this new decision, the Court found that both the decision as to the newspaper cross ownership rules and the one dealing with diversity policies were wanting, and sent these matters back to the FCC for further consideration. At the same time, the Court upheld the FCC’s decisions not to change the local television ownership rules (allowing common ownership of 2 TV stations only when there are at least 8 independently owned stations in a market, and where the combined stations are not both among the Top 4 in their markets) and to retain the sub-caps for radio ownership (the rules that allow one entity to own up to 8 stations in a single market, as long as there are no more than 5 in any single service, i.e. AM or FM).

The discussion of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules was entirely procedural.  While certain public interest groups had argued that the 2007 revision to the cross ownership rules allowed too many broadcast-newspaper combinations, a number of media companies argued that it allowed too few.  The Court didn’t address either contention, instead focusing on the process by which the FCC adopted the rules.  When the Court addressed the 2003 rule changes, it sent that decision back to the Commission questioning the basis for the "diversity index" that the FCC had adopted to measure when transactions resulted in too much concentration in a market, and specifically instructed the FCC to give the public notice and an opportunity to comment on the specifics of any new proposal that was adopted.  The Court felt that there were too many obvious flaws in the diversity index which could have been discovered if the public had been given a chance to review its details before it was adopted.  In asking for comments following the Court’s remand, the recent decision concluded that the FCC had given the public only a cursory description of the issues that it would consider on remand with respect to the cross-ownership issue when the FCC issued its request for public comment.  The substance of the Commission’s policies which were adopted, setting out presumptions in favor of cross-ownership in larger markets and against it in smaller markets, was not suggested in the request for public comment, but instead was first floated in a newspaper Op-Ed by then FCC Chair Kevin Martin.  While the FCC asked for comment on that proposal, parties were given less than a month to file comments, and a draft decision embodying the proposal was already circulating at the FCC before the comment period had even ended. This process prompted much outcry at the contentious FCC meeting at which these rules were adopted (see our summary here).  The Court looked at this process, and determined that the public had not been given an adequate opportunity to address the specifics of the FCC proposal, and had given the appearance of having pre-judged the outcome of the case.  Thus, this week’s decision sent the FCC’s 2007 order back to the FCC to seek more public comment, and to develop rules based on those comments. 


Continue Reading Court Tells FCC to Give More Consideration to Newspaper-Broadcast Cross Ownership Rules and to Policies to Promote Broadcast Ownership By Minorities