Robert McDowell is the senior Republican FCC Commissioner, and he told a gathering sponsored by MMTC that the FCC should be doing everything it can to encourage increased diversity among FCC licensees.
McDowell noted progress made, but unfortunately he also had to note progress stymied by difficulty getting certain measures past the judicial system. In particular, he noted “Any action the Commission would undertake regarding race- and/or gender-based regulations to expand opportunities for minorities and women must satisfy the rigorous demands of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, including the strict scrutiny standard under the Supreme Court’s Adarand line of cases.”
McDowell added, “Although the Commission has taken constructive steps to improve its minority ownership data and acquire information regarding the information needs of communities, it must conclude these crucial studies to determine the best approaches to increase media diversity and whether race- and/or gender-based rules are legally sustainable under the Constitution. Simply put, the Commission cannot delay these actions any longer.”
He said that in the interim, the FCC should be moving with all due haste on race and gender neutral proposals, whether the FCC can act directly or not.
For example, it can do nothing directly to put capital in the hands of minority would-be buyers, but it can use its contacts and expertise to put would-be buyers together with potential lenders.
McDowell applauded MMTC’s stated opinion that relaxing broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership restrictions will have little or no impact on diversity, and just might save a newspaper or two.
He also went to bat for local business arrangements that are helping to keep some broadcast stations solvent. “Finally, the Commission must resist calls for limiting, and therefore discouraging, the use of joint sales, shared service, and local news service agreements. These agreements provide efficiencies that lower operation and production costs for broadcasters enabling them to deploy more resources that benefit more consumers. In fact, I have heard from many broadcasters that such arrangements have directly and indirectly helped foreign-language and women- and minority-owned stations enter markets and improve their programming.”
RBR-TVBR observation: Given the apparent unanimity of purpose on the FCC 8th Floor on this matter you’d think things would be moving along at a faster clip. We hope this is the year when the Commission buckles down and takes action on the proposals already in front of it.