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The FCC revamped its rules and related forms for reporting the ownership of commercial broadcast stations. All commercial stations, including previously-exempt LPTV and Class A stations, are subject to the new rules. The FCC also proposed ownership rule changes for noncommercial stations.

Commercial changes

All ownership reports for commercial licensees will now be filed by a single filing deadline — Nov. 1 — and will reflect data as of Oct. 1. This abandons the longstanding requirement that ownership reports be filed on a staggered basis.

All commercial licensees will be required to file ownership reports. This means that LPTV, Class A, single individuals and partnerships composed exclusively of individuals — all groups previously exempted from ownership reporting requirements — are now subject to the requirement.

Certain less-than-controlling interests previously deemed unreportable will now be required to be included.

The Media Bureau is now authorized to perform random audits “to ensure the accuracy of reports.”

NCE and LPFM changes

The commission has proposed that noncommercial educational (NCE) licensees be required to include “gender and racial/ethnic” information in their ownership reports. (Form 323 for commercial stations already requires the submission of such data.) Additionally, LPFM licensees, historically exempt from ownership reporting, would lose that exemption. Recognizing that many NCE stations are licensed to nonprofit, nonstock organizations that are not covered by conventional notions of “ownership,” the FCC acknowledges that it will have to come up with a workable definition of ownership in the NCE context.

Purpose of the changes

The FCC's purpose in adopting the new rules is so it can better assess and effectively promote diversity of ownership in the broadcast industry. According to Acting Chairman Michael Copps, the state of broadcast ownership is “shameful” because the media “are still deficient when it comes to reflecting the diversity of America.” And that “shameful state of affairs” will “continue until more women and minorities actually own stations and set their own policies.” His sentiments were echoed by Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. In a considerably more restrained statement, Commissioner Robert McDowell expressed cautious support for the concept of obtaining “more precise and reliable” ownership statistics while making clear that he did “not entirely agree with every word” in the FCC's order.

While these rule changes deal only with information gathering, if the FCC is looking toward a race-, ethnic- and gender-based system of regulation of broadcast ownership, it will have to confront thorny issues.

Practically speaking, how is the term “minority” to be defined? While some may justify race-based regulation as necessary to address a perceived problem of “underrepresentation,” what does underrepresentation mean? If the government is trying to eliminate underrepresentation, how will it know the job has been done?

Conceptually, the FCC will have to examine the concept of “diversity” which, according to Copps and Adelstein, is a matter of urgent concern. How is diversity defined? How can a governmental agency identify it? How can it determine what level of diversity is enough? And how does that agency propose to monitor and maintain the level of diversity that it believes is necessary?

Harry C. Martin is a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth, PLC.

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  • Aug. 1 is the deadline for noncommercial TV stations in Illinois and Wisconsin to file their biennial ownership reports. As detailed in the accompanying text, biennial ownership reports for commercial TV stations will be due on Nov. 1 unless that date is extended. The Aug. 1 and Oct. 1 filing dates for ownership reports for commercial stations have been suspended.
  • Aug. 1 is the deadline for TV stations and Class A stations in the following states and territories to place their 2009 EEO public file reports in their public files and post them on their Web sites: California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wisconsin. LPTV stations originating programming in these states, which are not required to have public files, must post these reports on their Web sites and keep them in their station records.
  • Also on Aug. 1, TV stations (except Class A stations) in Illinois and Wisconsin, regardless of the number of persons employed at the station, must electronically file an EEO midterm report using FCC Form 397.