Doing the Ownership Limbo

At presstime, the odds were lengthening there would be a Federal Communications Commission vote on new media ownership rules anytime soon, though broadcasters were continuing to push for one.

According to sources, none of the commissioners, nor chairman Julius Genachowski, had voted on the chairman’s proposal to loosen or lift cross-ownership rules (the proposal does a little of both). And with commissioners heading to Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show last week, it wasn’t looking like there would be much action on that front.

The item could still be put on the FCC’s January public meeting agenda, but commission staffers were doubtful about that happening. One said they would be “stunned” if that happened, with another agreeing it was a very long shot. Both suggested Genachowski would incorporate more input from commenters and then decide if there was a “path forward.” The alternative would be to take no action and leave it for Genachowski’s successor, if the chairman decides to leave this year, as many are predicting.

Genachowski has felt pushback from minority groups for trying to loosen any rules without gauging their impact on women and minority media ownership, which is disproportionately low and not improving, according to the FCC’s own figures.

But in filings and meetings, broadcasters have been pushing a dual track: Going ahead and voting the crossownership relaxation and separately adopting a number of diversity initiatives focused on incentivizing ownership through tax breaks, tutorials, loan guarantees, loosening restrictions on foreign investments in broadcast properties so that they are looked at on a case-bycase basis and other measures.

That squares with the chairman’s argument that a Third Circuit remand of the rules for better justification of previous diversity initiatives can be dealt with separately from revising the cross-ownership rules as part of a separate, quadrennial review of ownership rules that was supposed to have been done in 2010.

“The Commission should not heed calls for further delay in updating its broadcast ownership rules until additional research is completed regarding the disproportionately low levels of female and minority owners,” the National Association of Broadcasters told the FCC last week.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.