Over a year ago, the FCC released its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on amendments to the FCC’s multiple ownership rules.  Issues from newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, to local TV and radio ownership limits are all being considered.  Our summary of the issues raised in the NPRM is available here.  The FCC has been holding field hearings throughout the country on its proposals, gathering public comment on the proposals – the most recent having been held in Chicago last night.  Only one more field hearing to go and the Commission will have conducted the six hearings that it promised.  Many, including me, had felt that the timing was such that no decision in this proceeding could be reached until 2008 and, as that is an election year, the decision could quite well be put off until after the election to avoid making it a political issue.  However, there are now signs that some at the FCC are gearing up to try to reach a decision late this year or early next – presumably far enough away from the election for any controversy to quiet before the election.  With this push, others are expressing concern about a rush to judgment on the issues, and may well seek to delay it further.

Evidence of the FCC’s increasing attention to the multiple ownership issues include the recent Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, asking questions about minority ownership and making proposals on how that ownership can be encouraged (proposals we summarized here).  The FCC has also asked for comment on several studies that it commissioned to look at the effects of ownership consolidation in the broadcast media (the public notice asking for comments is here, and the studies can be found here).  Comments on the Further Notice and the ownership studies are due on October 1, with replies due on October 15.  Some have suggested that this time table is unnecessarily accelerated, especially as certain peer review documents on the ownership studies were just recently released.


Continue Reading A New Push to Address Multiple Ownership?

In a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC last week asked for public comment on a series of initiatives to promote the ownership of broadcast stations by minorities and other Socially Disadvantaged Businesses ("SDBs").  These proposals, which include the potential for the sale without requiring any divestitures of clusters of radio stations which exceed the multiple ownership rules now in effect, and the potential for investors to invest in stations controlled by SDBs, even if such investment would otherwise violate the existing multiple ownership rules.  The Further Notice was issued in response to a petition filed over a year ago by the Minority Media Telecommunications Council, which asked for a withdrawal of the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Multiple Ownership Rules (which we summarized here) because that Notice did not address the promotion of minority ownership of broadcast stations.  MMTC claimed that the Third Circuit’s remand of the 2003 Multiple Ownership decision mandated that consideration.  Comments on the Further Notice, which will be resolved as part of the current multiple ownership proceeding, are due on October 1, and replies on October 15

The Notice raises a number of suggestions for regulatory changes to foster the ownership of broadcast stations by minority owners and other SDBs.  In addition to allowing the transfer of grandfathered radio clusters that no longer comply with the multiple ownership rules, these include specific proposals that would accomplish the following:

  • Allowing investment by exiting broadcasters and others with attributable media interests into companies controlled by minorities without the investment being counted against the ownership holdings of the investing company
  • Allowing minority groups to purchase unbuilt construction permits, and get sufficient time to construct those stations, even if the construction permit is otherwise to expire as it has been outstanding and unbuilt for over three years
  • Granting some non-minority owned companies waivers to exceed the multiple ownership limits if they sell stations to SDBs (including a proposal to create tradable credits for creating minority-owned stations)
  • Allowing for the waiver of the alien ownership limits if the investment by foreign companies would assist a minority-owned company in getting into the broadcast business.
  • Revival of the policies permitting minority distress sales (where a broadcaster against whom there were issues pending which could lead to a revocation of a license could sell their station to a minority group and avoid the revocation proceeding) and minority tax credits  (where a broadcaster who sells to a minority group could defer gains on sale if the money was reinvested into any broadcast company in the future)


Continue Reading FCC Proposes Multiple Ownership Exceptions to Foster Minority Ownership

In the last few months, attention of the broadcast press has been focused on the pressing regulatory issues of the day – matters such as content regulation (indecency, violence and junk food advertising), the digital conversion of radio and TV, and the new digital media landscape and its impact on broadcasters (XM/Sirius, You Tube and Internet video, and Internet radio).  Almost forgotten is the multiple ownership proceeding that began in earnest last summer when the FCC issued its Notice of Proposed Rule making (see our summary here), but which has really been pending in front of the Commission since the US Court of Appeals issued its Stay of the FCC’s 2003 Order adopting "new" ownership rules.  This week, at least some attention was brought back to the issue following the release by the organization Free Press of a study  that purports to document the effects that consolidation has had on minority and female ownership in the broadcast media.  Coupled with an electronic press conference featuring the two Democratic FCC Commissioners, the report merited an article in the Los Angeles Times and other mainstream press outlets.  It is a study that should be read by broadcasters, as it will likely form part of the debate on this most important issue.

While studies have been issued on and off throughout the debate over the multiple ownership rules, seemingly proving almost whatever the party providing the study wants to prove, this study should not be ignored.  Executive summaries and a full copy of the report can be found here.  The report purports to show that consolidation in the media holds down minority and female ownership.  And, unlike many other studies that have obvious design flaws and seem to be based on faulty assumptions, this one considers many of the obvious objections.  It does not under count minority ownership – in fact it takes the FCC to task for under counting such ownership, and actually reports higher amounts of minority and female ownership than the FCC itself had acknowledged.  The report also addresses the usual response to such studies – that it is a question of access to capital that results in the disparities – by doing a comparison of minority and female ownership in broadcasting to that ownership in other industries, and finding broadcasting very close to the bottom in diverse ownership.


Continue Reading Study Released Showing Effects of Broadcast Consolidation – Broadcasters Should Pay Attention