Congress Looking at FCC Ownership Rules

By Kevin Eck 

FCC_304A subcommittee of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce meets today in a session called “Media Ownership in the 21st Century.”

On its website, the committee said it’s meeting to “discuss the FCC’s inaction on the statutorily required 2010 quadrennial review of the media ownership rules as well as the continued relevance of the media ownership regulatory framework in general.”

The subcommittee will also talk about the FCC’s decision to “forge ahead with new rules on joint sales agreements (JSAs) and other media ownership changes without the completed quadrennial review.”

In other words, lawmakers will talk about whether the FCC’s ownership rules are still relevant and whether lawmakers agree with the FCC’s decision to limit JSAs.

“The question is are the media ownership rules today even credible in today’s technological society?” Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) told The Hill. “Hopefully we flesh that out, make that case. Because if you stay under the same rules, there’s a chance you make it more difficult for the local purveyors of news and information to survive.”

Republicans have criticized the regulations and lambasted the FCC for moving forward with additional restrictions to broadcasters operating in the same media market. Under a proposal approved by the FCC in March, broadcast companies would be effectively banned from sharing more than 15 percent of their advertising resources, a practice that broadcasters say is necessary for them to operate.

Bill Lake, chief of the FCC’s media bureau, will tell lawmakers on the committee that the commission is hard at work on a much-delayed review of existing media rules, but that “media ownership limits remain necessary in the current marketplace despite the prevalence of new electronic media.” Newspapers and broadcast TV and radio still play a “vital role” in the media industry, he said in his written testimony, even while the market is “in transition.”

The move limiting broadcasters from sharing advertising, he added, is necessary to limit “a realistic potential to unduly influence or control programming decisions or other core operations of the licensee.”

Jane Mago, executive vice president with the National Association of Broadcasters, will retort that the existing rules “do not best serve the public interest” and that the FCC “has failed to fulfill its obligation to review and update the broadcast ownership rules in light of current competitive conditions.”

“The current broadcast ownership rules are out of touch with the reality of the media marketplace,” she added in prepared remarks. “They distort competition.”

That sentiment will be shared by Newspaper Association of America senior vice president Paul Boyle, who said that FCC limits are “outdated” and threaten local journalism.

The FCC will get some support from the labor union NewsGuild-CWA and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.