NOW Submits Comments to the FCC Opposing Further Consolidation of Media Ownership

November 2006

Read the letter to FCC commissioners sent by NOW and allied organizations regarding media ownership consolidation.

Continuing a decades-long commitment to the rights of women to own, operate and be employed by the broadcast industry, NOW Foundation filed these comments at the FCC opposing further consolidation of ownership in the media.

Read a summary of the comments below or download the full comments (PDF). More about NOW's Work with the FCC.

Summary

National Organization for Women Foundation, the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, Inc., Media Alliance, Common Cause, and Benton Foundation, urge the Commission to tighten or maintain existing broadcast ownership limits so as to increase opportunities for minorities and women to own broadcast stations and to best promote the public interest goals of diversity, localism, competition, and efficient use of the spectrum.

The Commission should make increasing opportunities for minorities and women to own broadcast stations a central focus of this proceeding. Analyses of the Commission's Form 323 ownership data show that the percentage of broadcast stations owned by minorities and women is in the low single digits, has been stagnant or decreasing, and is far below that of other industries. Moreover, numerous studies find that minorities and women continue to be under-represented or stereotyped in both news and enteraininment programming.

Increasing minority and female broadcast station ownership would serve the public interest in many ways. First, it would benefit the public by increasing the diversity of programming. Second, it would help to break down racial and gender stereotypes. Third, increasing the number of minority or women-owned stations would result in better service for underserved segments of the population. Finally, it would help remedy the past discrimination against both women and minorities in which the Commission has been at least a passive participant.

Tightening the existing ownership limits and eliminating “grandfathering” are among the most important steps the Commission could take to foster new entry by minorities and women. At a bare minimum, the FCC must ensure that discrimination based on race or gender does not
occur in the sale of broadcast stations by adopting MMTC's Proposal for an equal opportunity transaction rule.

The Commission should also act promptly to develop a working definition of “socially and economically disadvantaged” businesses that would include small businesses controlled by minorities or women. The transfer of grandfathered clusters should be limited to socially disadvantaged businesses rather than small businesses generally, and other ways of assisting socially and economicall disadvantaged small businesses should be considered.

The Commission must ensure that local television stations, newspapers, and radio stations are held by multiple, diverse owners. These media are the primary sources of news and information for the vast majority of the American public. Alternative information sources such as cable, Internet, and satellite provide little if any local news, although they may serve as additional platforms for the news gathered and produced by broadcast stations and newspapers. Additionally, a significant number of Americans do not have access to or cannot afford these alternative media sources.

Specifically, Commenters urge the Commission to modify its broadcast ownership rules as follows: Local TV: The Commission should return to a single-license restriction on local television ownership. Digital television enables licensees to broadcast multiple program streams using a single license, thus obviating the need to acquire a second or third license to provide additional programming to the public. Moreover, the predicted programming benefits from common ownership, on which the Commission relied in relaxing local television ownership rules in 1999, have failed to materialize. A single-license restriction would promote diversity of viewoints, improve local service, increaese competition, and give licensees the incentive to use the spectrum more efficiently.

Newspaper-Broadcast Cross-Ownership: The Commission should retain the current prohibition on common ownership of a daily newspaper and a broadcast station serving the same area. Recent developments that allow both broadcasters and newspaper publishers to disseminate content on other platforms have undercut arguments for relaxing the cross-ownership restriction. Moreover, studies and anecdotal evidence show little or no public benefit from cross-ownership. Retaining the current rule with a modification to close up the loophole created by the extension of license terms to eight years would best serve the goals of diversity, localism and competition. However, if the Commission concludes that some relaxation is necessary, it would best be accomplished by modifying the waiver policy to allow waivers where certain objective criteria are met indicating that the waiver would benefit the public and to disallow waivers in categories of cases where the diversity of local news sources available to public would be reduced.

Radio-TV Cross-Ownership: The Commission should reinstate a ban on radio-television cross-ownership. Reinstating the prohibition would promote diversity, competition and localism. According to the Media Burea's recently released study, television stations that are cross-owned air less local news. Moreover, the Commission cannot retain the Cross Media Limit found arbitrary by the Third Circuit in Prometheus, nor can it simply return to the 1999 rule, because it suffers from the same defects as the Cross Media Limit.

Local Radio: The Third Circuit found most radio markets to be "excessively concentrated." That excessive concentration continues today. The Commission should lower the maximum number of stations that may be commonly owned in a market. Lowering the limit and requiring divestiture within a reasonable time will increase opportunities for minorities and women to acquire radio stations, foster the diversity of views available to the public, improve local service, and encourage efficient use of the spectrum. Commenters also urge the Commission to retain the AM/FM subcaps.

Data Collection, Monitoring and Enforcement: Whether the Commission retains or modifies the rules, it should proceed in a deliberate and cautious manner so that the effects of any changes can be assessed and corrective action taken if needed. To accurately document and study the effects of any changes to the media ownership rules, the Commission must improve its data collection and analysis. The Commission should also strictly enforce the ownership limits and policies.

Download the full comments (PDF).

More about NOW Foundation's work with the FCC .