The FCC has announced its new broadcast ownership database in a format that can be searched and manipulated for media and public policy research. However, for broadcast stations, the new database reveals that many broadcasters have never filed time reports about their ownership.
In April 2009, the FCC announced it was revamping the biennial ownership report-filing requirement for commercial broadcast stations. Prior to that time, broadcast stations were supposed to file their ownership reports every other year on the anniversary date of their license renewal filing deadline.
However, because that deadline varied depending upon the state in which a station was located, and because a licensee with stations in multiple states could elect to file a consolidated set of reports on the license renewal deadline for any of those states, locating all of a particular broadcast station’s ownership reports at the FCC could be challenging.
It was even difficult to determine whether a broadcaster had filed a timely report. Because of that, and because the FCC had previously received complaints from advocacy groups that the ownership data collected was hard to access and not useful in assessing broader media ownership issues, the FCC established a uniform filing date for all commercial stations of Nov. 1 on odd-numbered years.
The FCC also rewrote the report form itself, including the requirement that LPTV owners file ownership reports. The FCC’s goal was to gather ownership information from all broadcast license holders and to glean meaningful information from the data.
The FCC and the broadcasters quickly found this was a task easier said than done. The sheer amount of information that had to be submitted to the FCC, particularly for broadcast groups with complex ownership structures, was overwhelming. Technical issues were also complex. The FCC delayed the deadline for filing three times.
Over time, however, the issues were resolved and now the ownership database is available. However, many broadcast stations have still not filed ownership reports. The FCC attributes this to the failure of many who were previously exempt from filing to understand that they now need to be filing ownership reports with the FCC.
Among full-power commercial TV stations, only 1.7 percent failed to file. Among full-power commercial radio stations, 4.5 percent failed to file. However, more than 39 percent of LPTV stations (including Class A stations) failed to file.
The FCC has sent out letters to licensees demanding that they file the required ownership reports immediately, noting that “your failure to file could result in potential fines or forfeitures.” It appears that these letters are going both to stations that didn’t file at all and to stations that did file but had a defect in their reports.
The next batch of letters could begin the process of issuing fines against stations for failure to file, particularly those that failed to do so after being warned by the FCC.