FCC Majority Votes for Media Ownership Item

An FCC source confirms the FCC's Democratic majority has voted to approve the FCC's quadrennial media ownership review notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).

House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) had said at an FCC oversight hearing July 12 that he had been told that was the case.

That came in an FCC oversight hearing in his subcommittee.

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That item does not loosen or lift duopoly or crossownership rules, though it does add a failing newspaper waiver to newspaper-broadcast crossownership rule. It also revives the FCC's restriction on existing TV joint sales agreements.

Walden said he hoped the FCC item had not ignored Congress' "very specific views" to the FCC through the legislative process on JSAs that he hoped were not being ignored, adding: "That would be very disappointing."

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Congress has passed legislation that grandfathers JSAs existing before the FCC's March 2014 vote that would otherwise have to have been unwound under the FCC rules and allows those grandfathered JSAs to change hands without having to be unwound.

An FCC spokesperson would not confirm the quadrennial review vote, but at the hearing FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said that the committee would soon enough see what the FCC (majority) had done and that it was "even stronger" than what was on the fact sheet the FCC put out when the item was circulated, saying there were even more "prescriptive" requirements.

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The FCC last month circulated its long-overdue quadrennial media ownership rule review. Congress requires the FCC to periodically review its rules to see if they are still in the public interest.

A source confirmed that Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly has yet to vote the item. Once an item has three votes for approval, the other commissioners have two weeks to vote or it is automatically adopted, though a one-week extension on that is routinely granted.

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Given that there is a public meeting this Thursday to which most commissioners' attention will not be turned, and the oversight hearing Tuesday to which their attention has been turned, it could easily be a couple of weeks before the item is final.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler also suggested that there was still room for discussion with the minority commissioners, and edits could still be made to the item so long as three commissioners approved them.

For example, if, hypothetically, O'Rielly asked that the radio-newspaper crossownership rule be scrapped and the chairman decided he could live with that, it could become part of the item.

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.