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Media Ownership: Going the Extra Mile for Transparency

by: Bill Lake, Chief, Media Bureau

December 3, 2012

For over two years, the Commission has welcomed public input in our pending Quadrennial Review of our broadcast ownership rules.  We began with the first of six public workshops on November 2, 2009 and continued by inviting two rounds of comments on a Notice of Inquiry released on May 25, 2010 and two further rounds of comments on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released on December 22, 2011.  We offered opportunities to comment on eleven economic studies we commissioned in 2010 and released for public review in July 2011, and we have accepted and continue to accept numerous ex parte submissions expressing a range of views throughout the proceeding.  This process stands in contrast to the Commission’s 2006 Quadrennial Review, where the Third Circuit criticized the Commission for failing to offer detailed rule proposals in the NPRM, issuing new proposals via Op-Ed/Press Release, and giving the public insufficient time to provide input on the new proposals.  Indeed, the same court opinion praised our current process even in its early stages, noting that the NOI alone contained a significant amount of specifics.

The Media Bureau released a report on November 14, 2012 about the ownership of commercial broadcast stations. This report provides, for the first time ever, detailed information by race, ethnicity, and gender about ownership of commercial television and radio stations.  The report was made possible by the Commission’s revamping of its Form 323 broadcast ownership report to enable the collection in electronic form of information about all attributable owners of these stations.  Data were first collected via the new form as of November 1, 2009 and again as of October 1, 2011.  Further biennial filings will enable the Commission for the first time to track ownership trends in a systematic way.

The 2009 data relating to minority interests in full power commercial TV stations were discussed in the December 22, 2011 NPRM.  They reflect that, as the Commission has long recognized, minorities and women own broadcast stations in disproportionately small numbers.  For example, in 2008 the Commission noted that “minority- and women-owned businesses” historically have not been “well-represented in the broadcasting industry.”  The Media Bureau’s recent report discusses the 2009 data in further detail and provides the 2011 numbers, which confirm that minority and female ownership numbers remain low.  These data are part of the record in the Quadrennial proceeding and have been considered as we work toward decisions in that proceeding.  Since the report was released on November 14, 2012, we have received input from a number of entities about their import.

A number of parties now have requested an additional, formal opportunity to comment on the Bureau’s report.  While the data in the report describe a picture whose outlines have been clear for some time, the Commission is providing that opportunity via a Public Notice going out today.  The commitment to transparency that animated the initial workshops in 2009 supports offering this further opportunity for public input.

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