FCC Chief Backs Ownership Delay Request
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski today endorsed a request by the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council to put on temporary hold a review of agency broadcast ownership rules to clear the way for a council-sponsored study of what impact the agency’s crossownership regulations have on minority ownership and newsgathering.
“In this heavily-litigated area where a strong record is particularly important, I believe this is a sensible approach to moving forward and resolving the issues raised in this proceeding,” Genachowski said in an FCC news release this afternoon.
MMTC made its formal request in a letter to the FCC yesterday. The MMTC said it has hired BIA/Kelsey to conduct the study and promised to deliver it to the FCC within two months in the hope that the agency would ask for a round of public comments on it — a process that could take another month or so.
While the principal focus of the study, which will further delay action on the FCC’s long-running ownership reform proceeding, will be on advertising, the study will also explore the possible "adverse impact" of relaxed ownership limits on the ability of minority- and women-owned stations to gather and present news, MMTC said.
The MMTC, headed by David Honig, said the study will be aimed at determining "whether the presence of grandfathered newspaper-broadcast and radio-TV ownership operations materially harms minority- and women-owned stations, taking into consideration the experiences of other stations in the same markets."
In the FCC’s news release, Genachowski made no mention of a controversial agency proposal under which joint sales agreements 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.
MMTC’s Honig has suggested that the agency defer consideration of the JSA issue until at least 2014 to reduce the heat being generated over the agency’s media ownership rule package.
In the FCC news release today, Genachowski confirmed that his proposed changes in media ownership restrictions would remove the bar on crossownership of radio stations and newspapers altogether, and would “reduce the bar to smaller TV station-newspaper combinations in the top 20 markets.”
“The [MMTC] study ... addresses an issue of importance, will augment the record, and will assist the commission in resolving the issues before it on the full record,” Genachowski said in the release.
The National Association of Broadcasters said in a letter to the FCC yesterday that it had reviewed MMTC’s letter and “agrees that there is potential merit in additional data-gathering regarding minority ownership. Accordingly, NAB does not oppose MMTC’s suggestion that the commission defer action in the above-referenced proceedings pending its review of the results of MMTC’s study. Such a brief deferral, however, should not lead to additional lengthy delay in the resolution of the already overdue quadrennial review proceeding.”
In addition, the Newspaper Association of America also said it supported MMTC‘s request. Its letter to the FCC said: “ The NAA is confident that the study will demonstrate that the commission’s modest proposal to loosen crossownership rules would not harm minority ownership. Upon completion of the study, the commission should vote immediately on the proposal and provide the regulatory relief that is necessary for new investments in local journalism.”