Noncoms Will Ask New FCC to Revisit Reporting Requirements

Public broadcasters are looking to the new Republican FCC for help after the FCC's Media Bureau this week rejected their petition to reconsider boosting their ownership reporting requirements in a way they argue is pointless and in no one's best interest.

In a statement Thursday, America's Public Television Stations (APTS) president Patrick Butler signaled that his members—noncommercial TV stations nationwide—would be taking up the suggestion of the Republican commissioners, Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly, that they ask the FCC, under new management, to revisit the question.

"America's Public Television Stations are most grateful to Commissioners Pai and O'Rielly for their statement in opposition to the Media Bureau order requiring non-commercial educational television stations to provide 'ownership' information to the Commission," said Butler. "We intend to request a review and a reversal of this order by the full Commission, and we are encouraged by the commitment of Commissioners Pai and O'Rielly to pursue this course."

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

The bottom line, said the FCC back in January, was that the moves would improve the reliability and comprehensiveness of its media ownership data, including on diversity and noncommercial station reporting to more closely square with commercial.

The FCC said this week that it had been right the first time and that the noncom petitioners were simply repeating arguments the commission had already considered and rejected.

The action was taken on delegated authority rather than a vote by the commissioners, which is likely the only way it would have happened since the Republicans about to take over did not support it and the commission is currently deadlocked at 2-2 with the departure of Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel.

FCC Republicans saw the decision as an 11th-hour effort that should not have been undertaken given the change in administration and signaled that change would mean a changed view of the noncom position.

"The Commission’s ruling no longer enjoys the support of the majority of Commissioners—nor is there a majority that supports today’s Media Bureau decision," they said in a statement following the bureau decision.

"The public owns our stations, which operate as licensees of communities, states, universities or school districts. Those who serve on public television station boards are unpaid volunteers," said Butler. "Requiring them to provide sensitive personal information to the Commission is a pointless exercise that advances no identifiable public interest.

"We strongly support the goal of ensuring that diverse viewpoints and perspectives are available to the American people over the broadcast airwaves. This is the mandate of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.

"But the proposed 'ownership' reporting requirements simply do not recognize or reflect the unique governance structure and organization of public broadcasting licensees."

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.