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Media Bureau Sets Aside Noncom Reporting Decision

Michelle Carey, the new acting chief of the FCC's Media Bureau, said Thursday that it has set aside the bureau's denial of noncommercial broadcasters' petitions to reconsider a reporting requirement they argued was not in the public interest.

The bureau, under then-chairman Tom Wheeler, on Jan. 4 denied the petitions on its own authority, but then-commissioner and now chairman Ajit Pai had said it should have been decided on the commissioner level, and Carey says that is exactly what will happen.

In a one-page order, Carey said, "On January 4, 2017, the Media Bureau issued an Order on Reconsideration in the above-captioned proceedings under delegated authority. We conclude that these petitions for reconsideration are more appropriately handled at the Commission level.  Thus, on our own motion and pursuant to our existing authority...we hereby set aside the Order on Reconsideration. The petitions for reconsideration will be returned to pending status and considered by the Commission."

Pai had signaled that could happen. "The Commission’s ruling no longer enjoys the support of the majority of Commissioners," Pai and fellow Republican Michael O'Rielly said at the time of that bureau decision.

A phalanx of noncommercial broadcasting entities had asked the FCC to reconsider and reverse a January 2016 order that was billed as improving the data collected from broadcasters to help the commission analyze ownership and diversity issues

All said the FCC's decision to require members of noncommercial TV (and radio) governing boards to disclose "highly sensitive personal information" is "ill-founded and must be reconsidered." Their main point was that the basic ownership-tracking purposes of the reference numbers tied to that information is not relevant to noncom TV and radio stations.

Now the commissioners will be considering that argument.

Patrick Butler, president and CEO of America's Public Television Stations (APTS), issued the following statement Thursday:

"America’s Public Television Stations are most grateful for today’s action by the Federal Communications Commission setting aside the Media Bureau's order that required noncommercial educational television stations to file personal information for their boards of directors in mischaracterized station 'ownership' filings," said Butler.

"The public, in all its diversity, 'owns' our stations, and station directors serve as volunteers without remuneration or any other financial interest. We applaud the new Commission majority’s understanding of this fundamental fact of public television, and we appreciate its swift action to overturn a well-intentioned but misbegotten order."

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.