FCC Denies Noncom Appeal of Diversity Decision

FCC Republicans are asking noncommercial broadcasters to file applications to review a just-announced FCC decision rejecting their appeal of enhanced ownership reporting requirements, suggesting it would likely get a more friendly hearing under new management.

"We encourage public broadcasters to file an application for review so that the newly constituted Commission will have an opportunity to revisit this matter," said Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly in a joint statement following release of the decision. 

The FCC's Media Bureau Wednesday denied the petitions by The American Public Media Group (APMG), the NCE Licensees, the Public Broadcasting Parties, and the State University of New York (SUNY) asking it to reconsider its decision. But they also had the backing of virtually all the big players in the noncom space.

A phalanx of noncommercial broadcasting entities asked the FCC to reconsider and reverse the January 2016 order that was billed as improving the data collected from broadcasters to help the commission analyze ownership and diversity issues.

The bottom line, said the FCC back in January, was that the moves would improve the reliability and comprehensiveness of its media ownership data, including on diversity and including noncommercial station reporting to more closely square with commercial.

In comments in support of a petition for reconsideration filed by some noncoms, America's Public Television Stations, PBS, CPB, and NPR all said the FCC's decision to require members of noncommercial TV (and radio) governing boards to disclose "highly sensitive personal information" is "ill-founded and must be reconsidered."

The FCC said this week that it had been right the first time and that the noncom petitioners were simply repeating arguments the commission had already considered and rejected.

The action was taken on delegated authority rather than a vote by the commissioners, which is likely the only way it would have happened since the Republicans about to take over did not support it and the commissioner is currently deadlocked at 2-2 with the departure of Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel.

FCC Republicans saw the decision as an 11th=hour effort that should not have been undertaken given the change in Administration.

"The Commission’s ruling no longer enjoys the support of the majority of Commissioners—nor is there a majority that supports today’s Media Bureau decision—so it was wrong for the Bureau to bypass Commissioners and reaffirm these reporting requirements unilaterally," they said. "And making matters worse, the Bureau gave no notice to Commissioners of its decision, leaving our offices to find out about its order from the press.  This basic lack of comity is unacceptable in any situation, but is especially unfortunate during a transition between Administrations.  Procedurally, it’s just another example showing why the Commission’s use of delegated authority needs to be fixed."

As to the merits of the FCC decision, they said: "It is pointless to require board members of NCE stations to report sensitive personal information (like the last four digits of individual Social Security numbers) to the Commission and will only serve to discourage these volunteers from serving their communities.  This is why public broadcasters from at least two-thirds of the states have sought relief from the Commission. We hope that we will be in a position to respond to their call soon."

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.