FCC's Clyburn: No Lock for JSA Attribution Proposal

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is no guaranteed third vote for FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal to make JSAs more than 15% attributable as ownership, at least as it is currently constituted.

Clyburn's office would not comment, but according to sources familiar with conversations between Clyburn and National Association of Broadcasters executives this week, she is looking for a way to balance cracking down on bad actors who use the rules to skirt ownership limits and fostering sharing agreements that can boost diversity, particularly in rural markets where joint ownership of stations is disallowed but the need for some financial help is often greatest.

Wheeler will definitely need her vote, since the two Republican commissioners have raised major objections to the plan.

Clyburn is said not to want to reward those bad actors, but is looking at a "different path" to achieving that end as she tries to balance competing, and legitimate, interests.

The Wheeler proposal has a waiver process for JSAs that can be demonstrated to be in the public interest, but it is not clear whether that fully addresses Clyburn's concerns.

Look for her to offer up her own variations on the theme before the scheduled vote March 31. The item was circulated March 10 and commissioners are vetting it and offering edits.

One middle-ground proposal that could appeal to Clyburn was offered up a couple of weeks ago by the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters. which suggested the FCC could uses joint sales agreements (JSAs) and shared services agreements (SSAs) to promote ownership diversity or "other important commission policies."

NABOB has historically been opposed to JSAs and SSAs, which they also saw as a way to circumvent the FCC's local ownership caps.

But in a meeting with Clyburn, NABOB executive director James Winston, said the sorry state of minority ownership has caused it to rethink its position if those sharing arrangements can be used to incubate minority ownership.

"Commissioner Clyburn is clearly openminded and understands the issues affecting the broadcast industry," said NAB's Rick Kaplan, who met with Clyburn over the issue and was once her chief of staff. "She obviously cares about diversity and localism and we believe that the current order only harms and does nothing to help those goals."

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.