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FCC Puts Ownership Diversity Issues Out For Comment

The FCC has voted to seek more comment on diversity issues related to its review of media ownership rules.

But it decided not to reissue its Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, in which it requested comment on a number of media ownership issues adopted in its 2002 biennial review of its rules and launched the 2006, now-quadrennial, review. 

That is the review broadcasters have been waiting years for so they know how to proceed in terms of buying and selling stations.

The Minority Media & Telecommunications Council had complained back in August 2006  that the original notice did not deal with minority ownership issues that a federal appeals court asked the FCC to address when it remanded the commission's 2003 attempt at a primarily reregulatory rule rewrite.

Rather than restart the ownership proceeding all over again, as MMTC requested, the FCC has voted to issue a separate, second, notice to "set forth in greater detail the proposals MMTC identified," saying it did seek comment on MMTC proposals and the general issue of "fostering female and minority ownership, though commission Democrats, dissenting in part to the decision, characterized that effort as "a few pat questions on this vital subject."

"We find it unnecessary to adopt the specific approach suggested by MMTC that we rescind and reissue the Further Notice in its entirety," said the commission in the notice issued Thursday. "The approach we take today, in conjunction with the initial Further Notice, provides ample notice to the commenting public on the specific issues germane to our media ownership review, including those raised by MMTC relating to ownership diversity."

Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein supported putting out the MMTC issues for comment, but dissented on the time frame for that comment--60 days--saying it was too short. The pair similarly criticized the 60-day comment period the FCC established for its 10 just-released media ownership studies.

"Yesterday, the Commission provided the public only 60 days to comment on ten research studies that took dozens of economists and lawyers over eight months to prepare," said the Democrats in the statement.  "Today, August 1st, after 11 months of inaction, the majority is providing the same truncated time for public comment on proposals that it neglected to discuss last year, at the beginning of our review of the media ownership rules....

"We dissent to the inadequate time given for public comment. After mulling this over for almost one year, the Commission is all of a sudden in a hurry and it is the public that gets punished," they said. "Giving the American people only 60 days to comment on dozens of proposals is outrageous. Not only is it disturbingly consistent with yesterday’s action, it is also eerily reminiscent of former Chairman Michael Powell’s rush to judgment four years ago, when he rammed through consolidation that would have, had it not been subsequently reversed, inflicted incalculable injury on America’s media. 

"Now a new agenda seems to be brewing here," they warned. "And whatever’s being cooked up, the public is not being given sufficient time to take a close look.  Maybe someone’s worried that, once again, the public will spit it out."

FCC spokesperson Mary Diamond responded to the criticism, though did not mention the commissioners by name: “While some are complaining about inaction on this item, it is worth noting that it has been before the Commissioners and awaiting their vote since October of last year.”

Daivd Honig, executive director of the MMTC was just glad to get the issue before the public.

"The extremely low representation of minorities in broadcast ownership is unacceptable in a multicultural and democratic society," he told B&C. "Thus, we’re pleased that the Commission has sought comment on a host of minority ownership proposals.  We hope members of the public, including broadcasters, will file extensive comments and advance additional proposals."