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?