FCC Announces Media Ownership Workshops

WASHINGTON: The FCC’s Media Bureau is starting a series of workshops to kick off the commission’s 2010 quadrennial review of its media ownership rules. The FCC is required by law to review the rules every four years. It’s proven to be one of the agency’s more difficult tasks--updates reliably end up challenged in court.

The FCC said “the purpose of the workshops initially will be to receive public input on the appropriate scope and methodology of the proceeding and later to help build an analytical and empirical foundation for a commission decision,” i.e., the very factors that have led the courts to toss FCC ownership rules in the past.

The other topics relevant to the proceeding include the state of the current media marketplace and the role of ownership in that market. Ownership of broadcast outlets is regulated because of the industry’s use of public radio frequency spectrum. Certain public-interest criteria must be met for the use of the spectrum. Diversity of ownership is thought to be in the public interest because it’s traditionally associated with editorial diversity.

The rise of the Internet has affected that premise, but to what quantifiable degree is uncertain. Broadcasters site it as a reason to relax ownership regulations. Financial pressure is also driving the need for more consolidation in the industry. The money dynamic is driving a joint operations agreement in Hawaii, for example, but local media watchdogs fear it will diminish the quantity and quality of news coverage there. (See “Opposition Mounts over Hawaii TV Operational Merger.”)

The FCC will seek feedback from experts, consumers, academics, stake-holders, trade associations, labor unions and others through the workshops.

The first one will be held in early November and solicit information from the academic community, the industry and public-interest groups. The FCC said it would follow up with more information on place, time and participants.