Adelstein claims FCC has authority over PPM


Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein yesterday repeated his call for the FCC to launch an investigation into how Arbitron’s Portable People Meter (PPM) measures minority audiences. Adelstein insisted that the Commission has legal authority to make such a probe.

Adelstein segued into PPM after his comments on the proposal passed unanimously to improve the FCC’s collection of data on minority and female broadcast station ownership. “But even as we make progress on this front, new challenges appear with every year. Since our last diversity order in 2007 we’ve heard widespread concern that the Portable People Meter rating system established by Arbitron has started to pose a threat to minority and women owned stations. We should recognize the important role of advertising revenue in ensuring a diverse ownership of broadcast stations. The potentially inaccurate ratings of PPMs could damage minority and women owned stations. We can’t afford to damage the few that we have and are trying to move forward and expand. I’m hopeful the Commission will soon launch an inquiry I’ve long sought into this audience measurement system so that all the facts and its effect on diversity will be evaluated and brought into light,” Adelstein said.

‘Some folks say we don’t have authority,” he continued. “Apparently they haven’t read the Communications Act. We have clear authority over all signals transmitted by broadcasters under Section 309 (j) of the Communications Act to ensure that they are in the public interest. Because encoded broadcast signals are required for PPM to operate and the audience measurements are used as currency throughout the broadcasting industry, we have legitimate questions about whether to allow unaccredited systems to be used over the public airwaves, potentially impairing the Commission’s important goal to promote diversity and fair competition under the Communications Act. In light of the challenging economic times, and the fact that the Commission relies on Arbitron market definitions and ratings data, we need to ensure their accuracy and reliability. The Commission can’t be left in the dark and we can’t allow damage to occur in an industry that we’re trying to expand,” Adelstein insisted.

RBR/TVBR observation: Adelstein is simply wrong. But then, he’s leaving the FCC anyway for another post in the Obama Administration.

He could make the same argument that the FCC has the authority to investigate gasoline pricing because radio and TV station news departments have to fuel their vehicles. Arbitron is not a Commission licensee and the FCC has no regulatory authority over its business practices. (Neither does it have any authority over Nielsen, Eastlan or any other ratings company.)

As we have noted repeatedly, the FCC also has no expertise whatsoever in the field of media ratings. For it to investigate radio ratings methodology would be as meaningful as having RBR/TVBR probe the practices of nuclear physics laboratories. The expert authority created at the behest of Congress, the Media Rating Council, should be allowed to do its work without hindrance from the unqualified amateurs of the FCC.