Commlaw - Mass Media

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Media Ownership Rules = Pandora's Box

The Commission on July 21, 2006 moved forward with a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on its media ownership rules. The Commission seeks comment on the:

  • Local Television Ownership Limit
  • Local Radio Ownership Limit
  • Newspaper Broadcast Cross-ownership Ban
  • Radio Television Cross-ownership Limit
  • Dual Network Ban
  • UHF discount on the National Television Ownership Limit

Once again, the Commission opens a Pandora's Box as to what, if anything, should constitute appropriate government imposed limits on the private ownership of television and radio stations using government-granted licenses for public spectrum.

The Commission released a Fact Sheet stating that six public hearings will take place and listing examples of the subjects to be addressed including:

  • Localism
  • Competition
  • Diversity
  • Minority ownership
  • Children's and family-friendly programming
  • Senior citizens
  • Religious programming
  • Independent programming
  • Campaign and community event coverage
  • Music and the creative arts
  • The growth of the internet
  • Jobs and the economy
  • Advertisers
  • Rural America
  • The disabled community

Just thinking about possible changes to the media ownership rules and the impact that changes might have on each of these constituencies, and then attempting to fashion rules that take those impacts into account, makes one's head spin. Indeed, the previous ownership proceeding that commenced in 2002 resulted in a 2003 Report and Order comprising 257 pages.

One thing that can be observed from today's FCC meeting is that the battle lines have already been drawn. Commissioner Copps, one of the two minority FCC Commissioners, observed that:

"We all know that in 2003 the FCC tried to eliminate important safeguards that protected media diversity, localism and competition. A majority of Commissioners approved stunning -- there is no other word for it -- rules that would allow one corporation to own, in a single community, up to three TV stations, eight radio stations, the cable system, the only daily newspaper and the biggest Internet provider. How can it be good for our Country to invest such sweeping power in one media mogul or one giant corporation?"

Meanwhile, Chairman Martin stated that "[w]e begin this dialog in a neutral and even-handed fashion".

A procedural point to be wrestled with by the Commission will be whether the next document released by the Commission contains actual changes to the rules, or whether another request for comment on specific rule changes will be invited.

A substantive issue will be to what extent, if any, the record and comments collected in response to the Commission's July 1, 2004 Localism Notice of Inquiry will be incorporated into any decisions made with respect to media ownership.

Timing-wise, any ultimate decision on media ownership could easily extend past the next presidential election cycle. This invites the observation that any decision made in this current proceeding with the Commission having a Republican majority of FCC commissioners might quickly become history if a Democrat is elected as president in 2008.


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