In a proposal circulated to the other commissioners, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would keep most of the broadcast ownership rules as is. However, he would modify the local TV ownership limits, restoring the ban against joint sales agreements that was knocked out by the courts and prohibiting network affiliations swaps. And while the proposal would require stations to report shared services agreements, it would forbear from restricting them “at this time.” The proposal is subject to a vote by the full commission.
Media Institute President Patrick Maines: “The proposed merger between the cable systems of Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks has brought out the usual poseurs in opposition. As it happens, there exists a bridge between these armies of progressivism in the person of former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. Whatever the pros and cons of the Charter and Time Warner Cable merger — and there are many more of the former than the latter — it speaks volumes to know about the kinds of people who are in opposition to it.”
In an order released last month which has not received much attention, the FCC clarified its requirements for the filing of Biennial Ownership Reports. Certain new information-collection requirements call for broadcasters — both commercial and noncommercial — to start gathering information now from their attributable owners, including members of their governing boards, in order to enable the completion of the forms when they are next due to be filed, on Dec. 1, 2017.
Outside tech advocates have been warning Congress for weeks against including any provisions targeting net neutrality in a final spending bill, but one Democrat is raising alarms about another potential provision aimed at separate FCC rules. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) called on appropriators to not alter TV ownership rules the FCC passed last year, which deal with joint sales agreements between broadcast stations.
Broadcasters challenging the FCC’s 2010 quadrennial media ownership order (or lack thereof) are now facing their third time presenting arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Just over a week before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit was scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case known as Howard Stirk Holdings, LLC v. FCC, the court instead agreed to transfer the case to the Third Circuit. This will mark the third consecutive quadrennial ownership review settled in the Third Circuit.
NAB says that the FCC should put its review of the proposed merger of Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable on hold, arguing that the agency should first deal with outdated broadcast ownership rules before allowing more consolidation among cable and satellite providers.
The broadcasting group petitions the commission, saying it should complete a review of its media ownership rules before ruling on the merger.
FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly on JSAs and SSAs: “I think it is fair to say that the media marketplace is far more competitive than it was decades ago when the FCC’s media ownership rules were established, or in 2002 … or 2006 when they were last reviewed. That is why I would be perplexed and deeply concerned by a push to abruptly switch gears and tighten the rules as part of a media ownership proceeding. Such a move would conflict with the spirit, intent and wording of the statute. It would also likely harm the public interest if fewer stations could offer local news, especially in smaller communities.”
The string of TV deals capped this week by the announcement of a sale by Allbritton Communications puts pressure on the Federal Communications Commission to keep its eye on the broadcast industry even as the agency is going through its own makeover. Taken together, the deals signal a reshaping of the broadcast business as it consolidates into larger station groups that provide more leverage as they buy programming and sell it to pay-TV operators. As the industry shifts, the FCC has been slow to act with its media ownership rules in flux.
The debate over “who owns the media” is heating up again, and has already become stuck in a bit of a 1980s time warp. That’s unfortunate. Smart media policy could actually help local news ecosystems during a critical time.
A cornerstone of American democracy is a free and open press providing diverse viewpoints. In America today, however, a trend toward corporate media consolidation is drowning diverse opinions and eliminating local control. In 1983, 90% of the American media was owned by 50 companies. Today, 90% is controlled by just six corporations. And the FCC may be on the verge of making a bad situation worse. It is considering a rule change that would clear the way for even more media consolidation. All Americans should be deeply concerned.
The FCC’s quadrennial review of media ownership rules, already delayed two years, is delayed again. There will be no vote on the rules until early next year, at the earliest.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) is criticizing proposals to relax the FCC’s media ownership rules, calling on Chairman Julius Genachowski to have a public vote on the changes at the next commission meeting.
Federal regulators are poised to ease ownership restrictions on major-market media outlets in what could be a boost to some big players in the struggling newspaper industry. After two failed attempts to loosen its rules, the FCC is expected by the end of the year to approve a new proposal that would allow newspapers and television or radio stations in the 20 largest markets to consolidate.
With the Appeals Court bouncing the ownership regulation ball back into the FCC’s court, there’s an opportunity for change to the TV duopoly rule. The commission’s own recent report says that diversity of owners may not be all it’s cracked up to be anymore in the wake of the Internet. Exactly, and it can’t continue to block local media combinations on the assumption that all or most will lead to fatter owners and shuttered newsrooms. They can lead just as readily to more and better news. So get busy: Schedule some ex parte visits with the commissioners and their staffs. It’s time to pay attention.
In remanding the relaxed 2008 version of the 35-year-old broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership rule to the FCC for another look, the U.S. Appeals Court said the agency’s decision to allow common ownership in large markets had “failed to meet the notice and comment requirements” in reviewing the rule as required by law. The court also affirmed the TV duopoly rule and other local owneship limits.
With all the focus on broadband at the FCC, it’s easy to forget that the regulator’s quadrennial review of its media ownership rules, originally scheduled for 2010, is overdue. Some progress was made Wednesday, though, as the FCC released five of the nine studies it ordered as part of the review of the current rules.
Media Access Project’s Andrew Schwartzman will argue for the Prometheus Radio Project in this week’s oral argument on the FCC’s 2007 media ownership rule change. Argument is being held tomorrow (Feb. 24) in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, the same court that stayed the initial media ownership deregulatory changes eight years ago.