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Senators Ask FCC to Hold Off on Ownership Vote

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski continues to get pushback
from top Hill Democrats (and an independent) on the media ownership change
order he has circulated for the commissioner's votes -- he has not yet voted
the item himself. In fact, none of the commissioners have voted it, according
to multiple sources. 

In a letter to Genachowski dated Nov. 30, nine senators
asked the chairman not to proceed with any rule changes without providing
"clear, evidence-based response" to concerns about the impact of
those changes on diversity of ownership.

They say the response that is necessary to comply with a
federal court and would be responsive to "significant public objection."
A number of minority groups, media activists and unions have asked the FCC to
hold off on a vote until the diversity impact is better gauged. FreePress has threatened to sue the FCC if it votes before collecting more input.

The chairmansaid in a press conference after the commission's public meeting Friday
that the commission had been collecting comment and public input for a couple
of years, though he did not say definitively that a vote would be wrapped up by
the end of the year, as he had previously indicated. Instead, he said the
commission would move "as fast as we can."

At presstime, FCC watchers were not convinced there would be
a vote by year's end given the growing pushback.

The proposed changes, according to numerous sources, include
loosening the newspaper/TV station cross-ownership rule, lifting limits
entirely on newspaper/radio and TV/radio cross-ownerships, and counting some
joint sales agreements -- those involving selling over 15% of another station's
airtime -- toward local ownership caps the FCC is not lifting or modifying.

The senators, which include Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Barbara
Boxer (Calif.), Al Franken (Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Tom Harkin
(Iowa), said the current media ownership rules have been a "bulwark"
against mass consolidation.

Pointing to FCC figures showing minority media ownership at
what they called "abysmally low levels," they said the impact of the
changes on those levels had not been sufficiently analyzed per a Third Circuit
Court order.

Broadcasters' ears were burning as the senators pointed to
the importance of that medium as a reason why raising those levels of minority
ownership was so important.

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.