FCC Urged To Delay Ownership Review
Minority Media and Telecommunications Council President David Honig told TVNewsCheck today that he’s recommending that the FCC put off a decision on whether to rein in broadcast joint sales agreements until at least 2014.
Under a controversial agency proposal said to be backed by the FCC’s Democratic majority, JSAs for which more than 15% of the advertising time is sold by the dominant station would have to be unwound within two years or the stations counted as jointly owned.
Broadcasters say that the proposal, which is included in the agency’s long-pending media regulation review, could have a devastatingly negative impact on their operations.
But in an interview with TVNewsCheck today, Honig, who is said to have the ear of key FCC Democrats, said he’s recommending that the FCC postpone action on the JSA issue, to reduce the heat being generated over the agency’s media ownership rule package.
“It’s just to keep the thing less contentious than it already is,” Honig said.
Honig also said the MMTC is planning to formally ask the FCC — perhaps as soon as Monday — to hold off on a vote on its media ownership review proposals for at least a couple of months, while an MMTC-sponsored study looks into what impact FCC crossownership rules have on minority ownership. The crossownership prohibitions generally bar common ownership of a daily newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same market.
As part of the FCC’s media ownership rule review, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has proposed to create a presumption in favor of a TV-newspaper merger in the top 20 markets, but only if there would be eight major media outlets remaining, and the deal did not involve a station that ranks among the top four in the ratings. There would be a presumption against TV-newspaper mergers that didn’t meet those criteria.
Also under the Genachowski proposal, the bar on radio-newspaper crossownership would be axed.
The proposals to change the crossownership rules have been opposed by some public advocacy and minority groups, and the controversy over the proposals has been delaying FCC action on the review.
Honig said he had no idea what the study — which would be overseen by Mark Fratrik, VP for research at BIA Kelsey — would find, but could serve as the basis for FCC action.
If the study says some forms of crossownership pose a problem for minority ownership, then Genachowski’s proposal “probably needs to be tweaked,” said Honig, who briefed agency officials on his proposal on Tuesday.
“If the study finds that most crossownerships do adversely impact minority ownership, well at that point the chairman should withdraw the proposal and not move forward with deregulation,” Honig said.
“But by doing the study, then the commission will have rendered a decision — whatever the decision is — that’s based on science, and it’s more likely that it’s going to be upheld in the court, and so everyone’s better off,” Honig said.
An FCC spokesman declined comment on Honig’s proposals.
Andrew Schwartzman, a long-time attorney for public advocacy groups, said he would have no comment on the proposed study of crossownership until after Honig briefed him on it. But Schwartzman, who represents the watchdog Free Press, said other public advocacy group representatives favor cracking down on JSAs now.
“They’re a blatant end run around the FCC’s ownership rules, and we want to put an end to them,” Schwartzman said.
Dennis Wharton, an NAB spokesman, said in response: “NAB will continue to reach out to potential allies — including MMTC — in an effort to encourage FCC passage of meaningful ownership reform that allows local radio and TV stations to remain competitive with national pay TV and radio providers.”