FCC extends, enlarges comment period on media ownership

In response to pressure by labor, public interest, and civil rights groups, the FCC agreed to seek public comment on its recent report on minority ownership of broadcast outlets. (link to public notice). Comments are due Dec 26, reply comments Jan. 4. This action effectively delays release of new FCC media ownership rules.

As has been reported, the FCC is looking to relax its ban on media cross-ownership, "... including modifying outdated prohibitions on newspaper-radio and TV-radio cross-ownership."

At the same time, the FCC's latest minority TV ownership data shows a disturbing trend:

"While white ownership increased, most minority ownership decreased. Blacks went from owning 1% of all commercial TV stations in 2009 to just 0.7% in 2011. Asian ownership slipped from 0.8% in 2009 to 0.5% last year. Latino ownership increased slightly from 2.5% to 2.9%."

The result - intended or not - is apt to be a greater concentration of ownership, which will in all likelihood further reduce the number of minority owners.

In response, on November 20, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR) released a letter to the FCC urging that any rule changes ought to be postponed, saying, "Rigorous public review is necessary to consider the value and import of this new information. Therefore, any action at this time on the media ownership rules is premature."

The FCC has been candid about the need for minority ownership, and about the unsatisfactory state of such ownership. "As the Commission has long recognized," the FCC wrote, "minorities and women own broadcast stations in disproportionately small numbers."

The LCCHR stated that agreement is not enough, and that ownership is a critical matter for the nation. "The expansion of minority and female ownership in media is an important goal for the civil rights community because of the powerful role the media plays in the democratic process, as well as in shaping perceptions about who we are as individuals and as a nation."

Moreover, said the coalition, the law is currently behind incorporating minority concerns into any proposed rule changes. "As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has directed," said the LCCHR, "the Commission must first be able to demonstrate that any changes to the ownership rules promote diversity of ownership before it can take action on media ownership."

Nevertheless, in its extension of comment, the FCC seemed a bit, well, grudging. "Several parties have requested an additional, formal opportunity to comment on the Ownership Report.7 Thus, while this proceeding has provided numerous opportunities for public input and participation, we will establish a further comment cycle for this limited purpose.8 Comments are due December 26, 2012; reply comments are due January 4, 2013."

CWA, which is a member of the LCCHR is pleased that the discussion on media ownership now includes further input on the subjects of race, ethnicity and gender.

Commission Seeks Comment On Broadcast Ownership Report (FCC, Dec. 3, 2012)

F.C.C. Takes On Cross-Ownership (NY Times, Nov. 14, 2012)

FCC media ownership survey reveals lack of diversity (LA Times, Nov. 14, 2012)

LCCHR letter to the FCC Nov. 20, 2012)

Report on Ownership of Commercial Broadcast Stations
(FCC, Nov. 14, 2012)

Post racial future not extending to media ownership (Speed Matters, Nov. 21, 2012)