Rather than make low-power and full-power stations bear an additional burden of filing biennial reports on ownership in an effort to increase minority participation, the FCC should ask for data from sources that already compile it. And the commission should investigate its owned failed minority ownership policies of the past so it doesn’t go astray again.
The FCC’s new reporting requirements on female and minority broadcast ownership is misguided and imposes additional, unnecessary costs on TV and radio stations in a time of financial distress.
Through the new reporting, the FCC is seeking hard data on just how many broadcast stations are owned by minorities and women.
That understandable. Such data would provide a foundation for new policies and provide a bulwark against inevitable court challenges.
But there is a far simpler way of getting it than by instituting a whole new regime of detailed, biennial reporting starting this fall.
The FCC can just ask for it.
In October 2007, Free Press put together a superb study that details the dismal state of minority and female ownership in TV broadcasting. To no one’s surprise, it found that all groups were grossly underrepresented.
Women owned only 80 of the 1,700-plus full-power TV stations (5.87 percent), while minorities owned just 43 (3.15 percent), according to the study.
With little prodding, I’m sure Free Press could update its work without much trouble. Thanks to the economy and the FCC ownership restriction, not many TV stations have changed hands in the past 16 months.
The NAB and other trade associations might be prevailed upon to do similar studies. When looked at side by side, the studies may differ a bit in the numbers and percentages, but not enough to be meaningful.
And, of course, they could all do parallel radio studies.
If the FCC wants an independent count, it could award a contract to an outside research firm. BIAfn, for one, could handle it. It has the best databases of TV and radio stations around.
This is no small matter. The Community Broadcasters Association put out a statement immediately after the FCC action complaining about the new paperwork.
“This burden will require tens of thousands of man-hours and cuts against the concept of LPTV as a lightly regulated service,” the statement says, adding that the requisite filing fee on the ownership reports would constitute a “heavy tax.”
The NAB may choose not to complain about this, having bigger issues to deal with, but I’m sure that the full-power member stations are feeling the same way as the LPTVers about yet another pointless FCC-mandated chore.
Ironically, the CBA also suggests that ownership policies are unnecessary in the LPTV world. According to its survey, it says, 43 percent of LPTVs have minority ownership and 60 percent have female ownership.
Now I also said the FCC reporting requirements are misguided. Here’s why.
As I pointed out here last week, the FCC has a long history of trying to undo the nation’s long history of racial and gender discrimination.
The agency has tried repeatedly to boost minority and female ownership with various policies — preferences for new stations, tax breaks for sellers of stations to minorities and discounts for minorities who buy stations in trouble at the FCC.
But those policies failed miserably. They didn’t increase the ranks of minority or female owners over the long term and they wrongly enriched people who figured out how to game the system.
Frankly, given its track record, the FCC should just give up trying to bring more minorities and women into broadcasting. But if it’s determined to go ahead, what it need to do is open an inquiry into what went wrong with those past policies so that it could avoid the same mistakes and provide safeguards against abuse.
If the FCC wanted to have some fun, it could identify all those who cynically used the policies to make a fast buck. Many are still around.
I could help out with that.
Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. You may contact him at 973-701-1067 or at [email protected].