FCC Opens The Ownership Floodgates — We’ve Got 120 Days To Learn to Swim

On Tuesday the FCC finally released the official Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for its Media Ownership Proceeding [PDF], more than a month after first announcing that it would happen. This proceeding marks the Commission’s attempt to deal with the 2004 appeals court ruling against the 2003 media ownership rules rewrite which attempted to greatly loosen restictions on TV station ownership, and the co-ownership of newspapers and TV stations.

The first round of public comments are due in 60 days, by Sept. 22. Then there are 60 days to submit reply comments. As Chairman Martin brags, that is longer than usual.

However, there are missing pieces to the puzzle that hamper our ability to file fully informed comments. Importantly, the FCC has not yet released the research reports it promised, a point echoed by Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein:

Given the circuit court’s admonishment that there must be a “rational connection between the facts found and the choice made,”5 there is an urgent need for the Commission to complete research papers and reports, which provide professional and objective information about current market conditions, trends and future expectations of the radio, television and newspaper sectors.

The research reports released as part of the 2002 rules rewrite were nearly laughable in the degree of their slant and inadequacy. It’s absolutely crucial that the FCC’s current research be subject to intense reasoned scrutiny.

Perhaps even more importantly, although Martin is trying to not Powell it, by promising to “hold half a dozen public hearings around the country,” we don’t know when those hearings will actually happen. While the direct public input to the FCC is crticial, the hearings should also function as venues for people to learn more about the issues involved in media ownership regulation. In turn, attending hearings should help people file better informed formal comments with the FCC.

But if any of the hearings occur after the filing deadline, then part of their potency to further the public interest is lost.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be making a concerted effort to go in depth on the particular issues at hand in this proceeding, both here on the blog and on the radioshow — a list of those issues is after the jump. Also, StopBigMedia.com has put together a simple form to simplify filing comments with the FCC on media ownership.

From the FCC’s Fact Sheet for Media Ownership FNPRM [PDF]:

FNPRM Seeks Comment On the Following Rules:
• 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

• Comprehensive studies that will address a variety of issues including:
• How people get news and information
• Competition within types of media and across media platforms
• Marketplace changes since the Commission last reviewed its ownership rules
• Localism
• Minority participation in today’s media environment
• Independent and diverse programming in today’s media environment
• The impact of ownership on the production of children’s and family-friendly
• $200,000 budgeted for these studies







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