HARRY C. MARTIN /
10.01.2006 12:00 PM
Broadcast ownership
The FCC has released a new framework for recreating multiple ownership rules.

In late July, the FCC released a Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making about the fate of the 2003 broadcast ownership rules. The rule making largely recites the history of the previous multiple ownership rule makings and asks for public comment on the issues raised by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals when it remanded the rules in 2003.

MMTC proposals

The notice begins with proposals by the Minority Media and Telecommunications Counsel (MMTC) for advancing media ownership by minorities. These proposals include:

  • a new tax certificate program;

  • sales of stations to minorities when divestitures are required;

  • requiring station sellers to give early notice to minority groups; and

  • requiring nondiscrimination provisions in advertising sales contracts.

The commission asked whether these and other MMTC proposals would be effective and practical ways of advancing minority ownership, as well as whether the commission has the statutory or constitutional authority to adopt such proposals.

Localism

The notice treats localism as a focal point of the FCC's consideration. There is a substantial record on this topic, compiled from testimony at the various public hearings and other presentations held around the country. The Media Bureau is compiling a summary of all of the comments to be submitted in the new ownership proceeding.

The comments on localism will come into play in the re-examination of the limits imposed by the local television ownership rule. The commission asked both for additional evidence to support the more relaxed rules it previously adopted and for comments as to whether those limits should be revised. It also seeks evidence to support fluidity of television market shares and requests comment on whether the ownership limits should vary with the size of the market.

In situations where a waiver is requested because a station is in distress, the commission asked whether it should reinstate the requirement that the applicants demonstrate there is no out-of-market buyer.

Cross-ownership

The FCC seeks comment as to whether the current numerical limits on local radio ownership should be changed, either by adding more ownership tiers or otherwise. It also asked whether it should retain the “sub-caps,” which limit the number of stations that may be owned in a particular service (AM or FM). The notice also asks whether the current rule is even necessary to serve the public interest in light of existing competition in the radio marketplace.

The commission found that the “Diversity Index,” which it had previously adopted to evaluate the likely impact of broadcast/newspaper cross-ownership, was an inaccurate tool for measuring diversity. Accordingly, the FCC seeks suggestions for new methods to determine whether a broadcast/newspaper combination would serve the public interest.

In particular, the commission asked whether limits should vary depending on the characteristics of markets. It also asked whether there should be different limits for newspaper/television combinations as opposed to newspaper/radio combinations.

Finally, the commission seeks comments on whether it should retain the dual network rule (which prohibits mergers among any of the top four networks) or the UHF discount (which reduces the number used in calculating a UHF station's audience reach under the national TV cap).

Initial comments are due Oct. 23. Reply comments are due Dec 21.


Harry C. Martin is the past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth PLC.

Dateline

Dec. 1 is the filing deadline for renewal applications and EEO program reports for TV stations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. This deadline also applies to TV translators, LPTV and Class A stations in those states, except for translators and LPTV stations that do not originate programming. These stations do not have to file EEO reports.

Dec. 1 is the deadline for TV stations in the following states to file their biennial ownership reports: Alabama, Connecticut and Georgia.

Dec. 1 is the deadline for TV and Class A stations in the following states to place their 2006 EEO public file reports in their public files and post them on their Web sites: Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont. LPTV stations originating programming in these locations, which are not required to have public files, must post these reports on their Web sites and keep them in their station records.

Send questions and comments to: harry.martin@penton.com



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