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FCC Increases Minority Ownership Reporting Requirements

WASHINGTON: Regulators regulated this week to make media ownership assessment more accurate. The commissioners issued tentative rules to improve data collection on minority and female owners of broadcast properties, though interim FCC Chairman Michael Copps said the maneuver was about much more than data. Copps has long advocated for increased diversification in media ownership.

“It may not wow you at first or sound like all that much. But it should be music to the ears of anyone who cares about reversing the shameful state of affairs in which we find ourselves,” Copps wrote in his official statement. “Our broadcast media--and they are not alone among our nation’s media--for all their many wonderful accomplishments, are still deficient when it comes to reflecting the diversity of America. Some of them are trying, and I want to recognize that. But until they do a better job of reflecting that diversity, they are not really reflecting America. That shortfall will continue until more women and minorities actually own stations and set their own policies.”

With the same vote, the commissioners also adopted changes for the way stations file related information on the advice of the Government Accountability Office and others.

Changes to the reporting FCC Form 323 include:
-- Removing filing exemptions currently applicable to full-power commercial stations owned by individuals or partnerships of natural persons. The FCC determined that excluding these categories could cause some female and minority owners to go under the radar.
-- Requiring LPTV and Class A television stations to file Form 323.
-- Broadening reportable interests beyond majority ownership. Attribution rules remain unchanged.
-- Establishing uniform biennial filing dates, beginning Nov. 1, 2009 with data current the preceding Oct. 1.
-- Incorporating the information into the FCC database for cross-referencing.
-- Authorizing Media Bureau random audits.

A correlative Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on whether non-commercial licensees also should provide gender, race and ethnicity information. This data currently is not required of them. The FCC also asked how to impose this requirement on non-commercial broadcasters without breaking their banks.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, a short-timer recently appointed to run the Rural Utilities Division of the Ag Department, concurred with Copps. Robert McDowell, the third, currently final and sole Republican member on the commission, expressed concern about increasing regulations of any sort in the current economic climate.

“What today’s action does not do… is change our existing broadcast attribution rules. To do so now, in the midst of such economic uncertainty, would be foolhardy,” McDowell wrote. “As I continue to advocate for a regulatory environment that is more attractive to private investment, I am interested in hearing from commenters as to whether the changes to Form 323 would impose any inadvertent negative effects. In sum, although I do not entirely agree with every word in the item, I support this action and I look forward to reviewing the information that it will yield.”

The rules and proposals for Docket No. 07-294 are not yet posted on the FCC Web site. -- Deborah D. McAdams