Media Ownership

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 fundamentally changed US broadcast ownership law. The 1996 Act directs the Federal Communications Commission to reexamine its broadcast ownership rules every few years and repeal or modify any regulation it determines to be no longer in the public interest. Currently, the FCC is reviewing broadcast ownership rules including: the national television multiple ownership rule, the local television multiple ownership rule, the radio-television cross-ownership rule, the dual network rule the local radio ownership rule and the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule. The FCC is collecting public comment in 2006 and is expected to make rule changes in 2007.

Below find the latest major developments, a summary of the 2006 proceeding, input from the FCC's Consumer Advisory Committee, links to the latest research, additional background as well as ways to keep up to date on the debate and links to organizations involved in the discussion.

Latest Updates:
2006 Proceeding
On June 21, 2006, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a
Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) that seeks comment on how to address the issues raised by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Prometheus v. FCC, which two years ago stayed and remanded several media ownership rules that the Commission had adopted in 2003. The Further Notice also opens a comprehensive quadrennial review of all of the media ownership rules. The 1996 Telecommunications Act mandates that the FCC periodically review its broadcast ownership rules to determine "whether any of such rules are necessary in the public interest as a result of competition." The Further Notice details the issues raised in the Prometheus case regarding the Commission’s earlier decisions and rationale. It discusses, and invites comment on, the rules that the court remanded:
  • Should the Commission revise the limits adopted in the 2003 decision on the number of broadcast stations that can be commonly owned in one market, or is there additional evidence or analysis available now upon which the Commission can rely to further justify the limits adopted then?
  • Should the Commission revise these numerical limits or is additional evidence available to further justify them?
  • How should the Commission address radio/television and newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership issues?
The Notice seeks comment on the court’s remand of certain proposals relating to minority ownership. A summary of the FCC FNPFM is available here. Comments in the proceeding are due October 23, 2006. Reply comments are due on January 16, 2007. The FCC provides information about how to file a comment.

Consumer Advisory Committee Input
On July 21, 2006, the FCC's Consumer Advisory Committee recommended that it would be in the best interest of consumers for the Commission to adopt a process in the 2006 media ownership review that will provide a full record on the potential impact of media ownership concentration and actively engage consumers in the proceeding. CAC believes it is necessary to have a transparent process that ensures consumers understand the full implications of Commission decisions. Such an open forum is especially critical for public input on issues of this magnitude, especially where the main purveyors of information have historically provided little coverage of this issue. To these ends, the CAC recommends that the Commission:
  • begin a comprehensive proceeding to adopt rules that will promote the core values of localism, competition, and diversity, and that will expand the multiplicity of voices and choices that support our marketplace of ideas and that sustain American democracy and creativity,
  • schedule and attend a series of hearings across the country to engage the American people on the future of their media and to gain a better understanding of the impact of media concentration on our communities,
  • compile a far more complete record, including independent research studies on media concentration in a variety of markets, so that the Commission can make a decision on a more solid foundation that the 2003 effort,
  • in releasing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, provide full notice and a significant comment period on the specific proposals, as warranted, so that the public knows what new rules the Commission is considering.
On November 3, 2006, the CAC adopted a second recommendation on the 2006 Quadrennial Regulatory Review of the Commission's Media Ownership Rules. The recommendation asks the FCC to adopt media ownership rules that promote:
  • Local ownership of broadcast outlets;
  • Competition as manifested through increased responsiveness to community needs and increased diversity of programming; and
  • Ownership opportunities for minorities, women and people with disabilities.
In addition, the recommendation reiterates the CAC's previous call to compile a complete record and issue specific rules changes for public comment -- and asks the Commission to aggressively enforce its media ownership rules. (See full text of the recommendation.) For additional information about the CAC recommendation, click here.

Latest Research & Resources
Background
The
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in early June 2003 to relax the nation's media ownership rules, resulting in strong reactions to the decision that is spurring court action and new legislation.

The FCC is an independent, federal regulatory body that sets the limits on who can own what media properties. Congress has mandated that the nation's media ownership rules promote "localism, competition, and diversity in the media." Among other things the overturned rules limited a single corporation from dominating local TV markets or from merging a community's TV stations, radio stations, and newspaper. They also prevented the merging of two of the major Television networks (FOX, NBC, ABC, or CBS).

Proponents of the deregulatory course the FCC has set in motion say the existing rules cannot withstand court challenges and are obsolete with the growth of the Internet, cable, and satellite TV. Vocal opponents of
deregulation fear that a greater concentration of media ownership will lead to fewer voices, excessive control over content, and less local news -- threatening democracy in the digital age. Members of Congress are advancing legislation to reverse the FCC's decision.

Keeping Up to Date

Benton's Communications-Related Headlines provides daily updates on developments in the realm of media ownership and other pressing communications issues. For just stories related to media ownership, follow this link.

Resources

A number of websites provide online background information and other related links. A select list follows:

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