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Media Ownership Rules Up for Review
Every four years, the FCC is required to review its media ownership rules to determine if any of the rules should be revised. In March, the FCC initiated the 2014 quadrennial review of the media ownership rules by issuing a further notice of proposed rulemaking, and a report and order dealing with the attribution of television joint sales agreements (JSAs).
The last time the FCC adopted rules resulting from a quadrennial review was in 2008. However, those rules were overturned by the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 2011 on procedural grounds. In 2010, the FCC released a notice of inquiry seeking comment on media ownership matters, but it did not adopt final rules. Now, with the release of the further notice, the FCC seeks to refresh the record and move toward adopting final rules.
While most of the commentary thus far has focused on the FCC’s treatment of JSAs and share services agreements, the FCC is also seeking comment on changes to the newspaper/broadcast ownership rule, the television/radio cross-ownership rule, and the local radio ownership rule.
Local radio ownership: In the further notice, the FCC discussed the local ownership rule, which imposes limits on the number of stations one entity can own in a market, and how many of each service (AM or FM). Rejecting calls for eliminating both caps, the FCC tentatively decided that both restrictions should remain in place.
The FCC did propose the elimination of an exception to the rule that defines the local market. Currently, any beneficial change in a station’s association with a particular Arbitron market is delayed for two years to avoid manipulations of the FCC’s rules. An exception exists, however, for changes to a station’s community of license.
If a station is moving out of a particular Arbitron market, the licensee of the station may deduct that station from its ownership interests in that market immediately, even if the actual technical facilities do not change. In order to combat a proponents’ change of community of license to effectuate future acquisitions, the FCC proposed to eliminate the exception unless the station actually modifies the technical facilities and relocates the station’s transmission site to outside of the market.
Newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership: The FCC once again proposed to eliminate the prohibition of one entity owning both a daily newspaper and a radio or television station in the same market. Previous attempts to do so in earlier proceedings have been undermined, so the FCC has tentatively concluded that there is no longer a justification for the rule.
Radio/television cross-ownership: The FCC also tentatively concluded that the restrictions on the common ownership of radio and television stations in the same market should be eliminated. Currently, the FCC limits the number of commonly owned radio and television stations based on the number of television stations under common control and the number of “media voices” that will remain should common ownership be approved. The FCC noted that the record developed in the earlier proceedings has raised doubt whether the rule should remain in place, and seeks comment. Comments in the proceeding are due on July 7, 2014, and reply comments due on Aug. 4.
LPFM note: The FCC will be receiving a report from the Media Bureau at its June 13, 2014, meeting, which is intended to provide “an update on the continuing efforts to launch new and diverse voices to the American public via increased access to Low-Power FM radio stations.” It is expected that LPFM applicants with mutually exclusive applications will be permitted to file major change applications to specify new channels to extract themselves from the mutually exclusive group. It is likely that a public notice announcing this opportunity, along with the first round of tentative decisions on mutually exclusive applications, will be released at some point after the FCC meeting. Interested parties can watch online at: fcc.gov/live.
Stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania continue running License Renewal Post-Filing Announcements on June 1 and 16.
July 10: All radio stations place 2nd Quarter Issues/Program Lists in local public inspection file.
Petro is of counsel at Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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