Pai Pitches Diversity Value of JSAs

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai continued his pushback on FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's expected vote later this month to make some joint sales agreements (JSAs) attributable under ownership rules.

Pai in a public statement Wednesday showcased a meeting he had held last week with Pervis Parker, general manager of WLOO-TV Jackson, Miss., which is owned by historically African American Tougaloo College.

It is one of a few—only three or four total—African American-owned TV stations in the country, Pai points out. But Pai said Pervis told him the only reason the station could broadcast in HD, air high school sports, or launch student-produced locally originated programming was because of a joint sales agreement with WDBD.

He says Parker was concerned about what would happen if the FCC made them terminate the JSA.

"As the Commission considers proposals to restrict the use of JSAs," he said, "I hope that we will look past the rhetoric and base our decision on the facts. Tougaloo College, for example, is no shell corporation. And Mr. Parker is no rubber-stamp for WDBD. Tougaloo and Mr. Parker are independent innovators whose JSA gives them the breathing space to create something where nothing would exist otherwise."

"Moreover, the record before the Commission clearly establishes that JSAs like this one facilitate new entry into the broadcast industry, enhance ownership diversity, and allow stations to serve the local community better."

The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB) has pitched the FCC on a proposal to allow JSAs and shared service agreements (SSAs) that further ownership diversity, specifically by allowing them so long as the sharing arrangement is a glidepath to minority ownership of that station.

But NABOB says the FCC doesn't have to back off making JSAs, and perhaps SSAs, attributable so long as it provided a waiver for those who wanted to use them as diversity incubators.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is widely expected to propose for vote at the March 31 meeting to make JSAs over 15% of ad sales attributable. That means that if a station sells over 15% of advertising on another station in the same market, the stations will be considered co-owned and the JSA disallowed if it would exceed local or national ownership caps.

The names Parker and Jackson, Miss., resonate with diversity advocates on another level. It was an Everett C. Parker, director of the Office of Communications for the United Church of Christ, who established a citizen's right to petition to deny a station license when he challenged WLBT Jackson on its civil rights record—the license was ultimately revoked.

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.