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TMI: Law Firm Asks FCC To Delay Ownership Filing Date

On behalf of itself as well as station and broadcast group clients, law firm Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth has asked the FCC to stay the Dec. 15, 2009, deadline for station owners, which in most cases means their lawyers, to file biennial ownership reports (form 323).

The FCC has changed the form--the firm calls it an "unexpected revision...inappropriately adopted"--to require information from anyone with an attributable interest in a station rather than just the principal entity.

That, says the law firm, means vastly increasing the number of parties, including individuals, who have to supply personally identifiable information, including social security numbers, to the commission, raising "serious privacy concerns."

The request for a stay or delay of the deadline also takes issue with the way the FCC chose to change the form, which was not through a notice and comment proceeding, but through an "unexpected" revision in the form without notice, says the firm.

"The Commission has not explained, much less requested comment on, its rationale for imposing this requirement," said the filing. "Indeed, the public learned of this revision only after the submission to the Office of Management and Budget of a revised Form incorporating the requirement.

According to Fletcher Heald attorney Dan Kirkpatrick, the FCC had not detailed the expansion of the reporting to individuals, which now means that officers and directors from investment banks with, say, a 15% interest will also have to give up that personal information.

The FCC has agreed to rethink some of the new form's requirements about reporting nonattributable interest, but Fletcher Heald wants it to do some more rethinking about the attributable interest requirements.

[T]he Commission should stay or hold in abeyance the requirement that licensees file ownership reports including the FRNs [FCC registration numbers] of every attributable interest holder until such time as it has completed the administrative procedures required by the Administrative Procedure Act [which would include notice and comment] and those necessary to ensure that the privacy of the requested information would be ensured.

Expanding reporting requirements were part of then acting FCC Comissioner Michael Copps' effort to tee up minority ownership reforms by collecting more and better data on just who owns what.

An FCC spokesperson had no comment on the request for a stay.