FCC Delays Ownership Vote for Minority Report

WASHINGTON: There will be no vote this month on the limits or lack thereof regarding media ownership in the United States as regulators secure more information on minority participation. The Federal Communications Commission issued a Public Notice this week seeking more public feedback on TV station ownership by women and ethnic minorities.

“As the commission has long recognized, minorities and women own broadcast stations in disproportionately small numbers,” the Public Notice states.

The most recent data, released Nov. 14, indicate that women controlled less than 7 percent the nation’s 1,328 full-power stations. Hispanic and Latinos owned less than 3 percent, while all other minority ethnic groups collectively controlled another 2.2 percent. (The ratio of gender and ethnic overlap was not included.)

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski was reported circulating an item that would have relaxed cross-ownership of broadcasting operations and newspapers in a given market, for release at commission’s December open meeting. Public interest groups and lawmakers reacted by calling for more time to analyze the Nov. 14 data.

“Past research shows that minority communities are the ones harmed most by further consolidation, and in particular, by loosening the prohibitions on cross-ownership,” said nine Democratic senators in a letter to the chairman. “We respectfully request that the FCC not proceed with its proposed rule changes without providing a clear evidence-based response to these concerns.”

Hector E. Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda wrote in a filing on the docket, “I am trouble by reports that indicate that this action may be imminent in spite of new data that indicates persistently low ownership levels by Latinos and other marginalized groups.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, (D-Wash.) wrote to Genachowski Nov. 29 calling for a public vote on any new media ownership rules.

“The American public deserves to hear directly from you and the other commissioners on this critical matter,” she said.

The newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban has been in place since 1975. It prohibits a full-power TV or radio station from owning a daily newspaper that reaches the same coverage area. The FCC tried relaxing the cross-ownership ban in 2008, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said no dice. The court remanded the ruling back to the FCC in 2011, putting several cross-ownership waivers in limbo. (See “Third Circuit Reverses Newspaper-Broadcast Cross-Ownership.,” TV Technology, July 7, 2011.)

This week’s Public Notice solicits comments on the Nov. 14 ownership report, derived from information gathered from the FCC’s Form 323. Form 323 gathers information on the demographics and business interests of people who own interest in TV stations, including low-power and Class A stations. The form was first introduced in 2009 and met resistance because it requested Social Security numbers. Two cycles of data collection have now been completed using Form 323—information as of Nov. 1, 2009, and Oct. 1, 2011. The Nov. 14, 2012 report is derived from the second collection cycle.

Comments on the Nov. 14 report on Docket. No. 09-182, are due Dec. 26, 2012. Replies are due Jan. 4, 2013.
~ Deborah D. McAdams