GOP Memo Cites FCC Ownership Review Rife With Missteps

The House Communications subcommittee has teed up a bunch of broadcast media ownership issues for potential discussion at its Sept. 25 hearing.

In the Republican majority staff memo for the hearing, a copy of which was obtained by B&C, the staffers said the purpose was to look at the relevance of broadcast ownership rules in todays' media world.

The memo talks about an FCC ownership review process "rife with missteps and setbacks," most having to do with a series of court challenges, remands, and regulatory responses dating back a dozen years under chairmen of both parties and resulting in a congressionally-mandated 2014 quadrennial rule review that will be a couple years overdue if it is completed, as promised, next year, and a 2010 review for which an order was never released.

Among the issues in that quadrennial review elaborated on in the memo, which could also be issues for discussion in the hearing, are the FCC's newspaper-broadcast crossownership rules, local TV ownership limits, local radio ownership limits, the national TV station ownership cap (which was set at 39% by Congress so is out of the FCC's hands), crossownership limits, joint sales agreements (the FCC made most of those attributable as ownership in a March 2014 order, but some Republicans want to grandfather JSA's prior to that), and the minority tax certificate.

Of the JSA's, the memo pointed out that "[t]hese types of agreements have been approved by the Commission for some time and are in use across the country," and that the FCC change "could force broadcasters to divest stations or dissolve agreements that are beneficial to bringing local content to smaller markets."

The staffers also put in a plug for the tax certificate program. "Implemented properly, a minority tax certificate program could produce diversity in ownership and programming without triggering constitutional concerns that can accompany programs intended to benefit women and minorities," they wrote.

There is no guarantee that all those, or even most, will be addressed in the hearing, but it shows the scope of issues Republicans are targeting. 

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.