According to an article yesterday in Broadcasting and Cable Online, and another article in the New York Times today, Chairman Martin of the FCC is looking to complete the multiple ownership proceeding (which we summarized here) by the middle of December. According to the Times article, the Chairman is looking for relaxation of the current newspaper-broadcast cross ownership rules – the prohibition on the ownership of a broadcast station and a daily newspaper in the same market. What the Chairman has in mind for the rules regarding local radio and television ownership is less clear. But, no matter what is planned, forces are already mustering to attempt to delay the Commission action.
Contemplating a December action is certainly aggressive. The Commission had promised to complete the two sets of public hearings – one on the ownership rules and a second on the localism provided by broadcasters – before reaching conclusions in this case. Each set of hearings still has a final hearing to be held. The Commission has yet to officially announce the date and location of either of these final hearings – though press reports have indicated that the Commission may look to hold one at the end of the month on the West Coast, and the final hearing in Washington, DC in early November. In addition, the Commission has just received the final set of comments on the proposals to foster minority ownership, which the Third Circuit had indicated was to be part of the analysis in this proceeding when it stayed the effect of most of the Commission’s 2003 multiple ownership decision and remanded that decision to the FCC for further consideration. With the comments on minority ownership just having been filed, and comments on the Commission’s own studies on the effect of consolidation not not due until next week (see details), and replies due early next month, does the Commission really have time to consider the issues raised in these comments in this proceeding and reach a December decision, or will some issues need to be delayed for independent consideration? Seldom has the FCC finished any proceeding within a month and a half of the end of the public comment period – much less an important and controversial one like multiple ownership.