MAP Asks FCC ToVacateDecision On Station LicenseRenewals

Chicago Media Action and the Milwaukee Public Interest Media
Coalition have asked the FCC to vacate a Dec. 10 staff-level decision that
rejected its request to review the group's case against renewal of the
licenses of 20 Chicago and Milwaukee TV stations.

That is according to a filing at the FCC by Media Access Project,
which is representing the groups. The petition says the Dec. 10 call was not
the staff's to make, but had to be referred to the full commission. "[T]he
staff inexplicably ignored the clear language of the Commission's rules
delegating authority to the staff and purported to
dismiss that application for review without referring it to the full
Commission," which MAP and company say it can't do.

"This case is extraordinary in that the Commission staff
had absolutely no authority to withhold the Application for Review
from the Commission or to act upon it," the petition filed Monday said.
"Only the full Commission has the power to act on an application for
review from a staff action taken under delegated authority. The staff action
must be vacated.

On Dec. 10, the FCC staffers rejected its Feb. 16, 2010,
application for FCC review of a 2007 Media Bureau-level decision rejecting the
group's petition to deny the renewal of 19 TV stations. The FCC said the allegations
raised in the Feb.16 request were new, came late, and thus were untimely
and not warranting of further consideration.

MAP and company also complained Monday that the staff's failure to
give any weight to its evidence that the stations provided almost no coverage
of local races in the run-up to the 2004 election was "clearly

That evidence came from data collection by the groups and analyzed
by outside "experts" that found that ‘[l]ess than 1% of newscasts was
devoted to...nonfederal elections in the four weeks prior to the
election...." Based on that, they challenged the renewals, but the FCC

In the 2007 decision, the
FCC had said it has "very little authority to interfere with a licensee's
selection and presentation of news and editorial programming," and that it
was not in the business of reviewing stations' news judgment. "The
petitions have not provided evidence that the named licensees exercised their
editorial discretion in bad faith," the FCC concluded, adding that
"[q]uantity is not necessarily an accurate measure of the overall responsiveness
of a licensee's programming. The study provided only concerns one type of
programming, local election coverage just prior to the 2004 election. It does
not demonstrate that television programming in Chicago or Milwaukee has
generally been unresponsive."

The FCC "ignored applicable precedent, and relied on
irrelevant and often obscure cases to reach its desired goal of never having to
give any consideration to a detailed factual presentation painstakingly
compiled by citizen petitioners," said the MAP petition to vacate the
decision. "Failure to address this case on the merits will further
diminish already weak public confidence in the Commission's regulatory process
for broadcasting."

MAP says the staff "mishandled" the complaint, and wants
the FCC to reverse the decision and school its staff on the proper care and
handling of the license renewal process.

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.