FCC unanimous on collecting ownership data


The three white men who currently comprise the FCC agreed that the Commission needs to do a better job of gathering data on minority and female ownership of radio and television stations so it can then adopt policies to encourage more minority/female licensees. The proposal to promote diversification will require even sole proprietors to file biennial ownership reports to make the FCC’s data more complete.

Not all broadcasters are currently required to file FCC Form 323, which spells out the equity and voting percentages for a station’s owners and then calls for the gender and racial/ethnic group of each to be listed. Not only are sole proprietors currently exempt from filing, but also low-power station licensees. The FCC Order adopted Wednesday will require filing by sole proprietorships and low-power television stations, both Class A and regular LPTVs. The related further notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) asks for comment on whether LPFMs should also be required to file Form 323-E, the version for non-commercial stations, and whether the racial/ethnic reporting should be added to Form 323-E.

Acting Chairman Michael Copps was still upset that the last time the FCC tried to do anything about licensee diversity, it stopped at targeting “small business,” which still left white males as the primary beneficiaries – largely because the Commission didn’t have good data to try to justify rules to promote ownership based on race/ethnicity or gender. Now that he’s in charge, that is changing.

“The excuse not to do more was the same as it has been for years and years and years –that we lacked adequate data to do more. Well, if we lack the data, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. Today we’re going to take away that sorry excuse about lacking data,” Copps said. 

The vote to improve data collection on minority and female broadcast ownership was unanimous. “Change has come to the FCC,” declared Jonathan Adelstein, the other Democrat on the current short-handed Commission, adding that “I’ve been begging for this for years.”

Lone Republican Robert McDowell applauded the effort to gather better data, but noted some differences with some details of the Order and NPRM. “What today’s action does not do, however, is change our existing broadcast attribution rules. To do so now, in the midst of such economic uncertainty, would be foolhardy. As I continue to advocate for a regulatory environment that is more attractive to private investment, I am interested in hearing from commenters as to whether the changes to Form 323 would impose any inadvertent negative effects,” McDowell noted.

The move to have LPTVs file the same report as full-power broadcasters gets no objection from the Community Broadcasters Association (CBA). “A few months ago, CBA conducted its own survey and found that 43% of Class A/LPTV stations have substantial minority ownership and 60% have female ownership.  We welcome the FCC’s recognition of the significance of those findings and its initiative to gather more detailed and accurate information itself on the entire broadcast industry,” the organization says. However, it does say that no fee should be involved.

RBR/TVBR observation:
Bringing back the minority tax certificate is the obvious, logical next step that has the support of just about everyone involved in broadcasting, broadcast regulation and civil rights organizations. Good data will certainly help make the case for reversing the misguided action that Congress took in 1995.