FCC Gets Earful On Ownership Studies

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The Federal Communications Commission has gotten some outside guidance on new studies to commission as it conducts its quadrennial review of media ownership rules per congressional directive (July 7 was the deadline for filing those suggestions), including that it look at the impact of joint operating and shared services agreements on the retransmission- consent process.

The American Cable Association wants the commission to study the impact on retransmission consent negotiations. It argues that allowing broadcasters to negotiate rights for more than one station in a market (via duopolies, shared services agreements or local marketing agreements) "reduces competition among local TV stations and erodes the quality and quantity of the programming offered by these stations."

The FCC said last month it was commissioning nine studies on a variety of topics, but also asked for suggestions on others.

Free Press, in a massive data drop that included examples of numerous previous studies, suggested that those studies were similar to the ones done in the 2006 review and that "it is unclear how useful these previous studies were to informing the commission's ownership review." Free Press complained about the 2006 studies, citing what they saw as flawed methodology and inadequate data.

As for Free Press' recommendations for further studies, it was on the same page with ACA, saying the FCC should look at the impact of the joint agreements, as well as news sharing, on the quality of news in a market.

Also calling for studies of the joint operating agreements were Common Cause, the United Church of Christ, Prometheus Radio Project, the Media Alliance, the National Organization for Women, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Communications Workers of America and the Benton Foundation.

The FCC arguably already should be teeing up those issues in two studies it has said it is conducting on "Quantity of local television news and public affairs programming provided as a function of local market structure" and "Quantity of radio news and public affairs programming provided and audience for radio news programming as a function of local market structure."

The FCC will have to get the study process moving if it wants to get the ownership review done by year's end, as has been the plan.

Specifically, the FCC is looking at five rules: the local TV ownership rule, the local radio ownership rule, the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule, the radio/TV cross-ownership rule, and the dual-network rule. It issued a notice of inquiry (NOI) May 25 launching the review process, including an open call for study proposals.

Studies for recent reviews under former chairmen came under fire from congressional Democrats and commission Democrats--Commissioner Michael Copps and former commissioner Jonathan Adelstein--for being used to support already-drawn conclusions, and for how the winning bidders were chosen. The commission source said this time around the commission is "leaning toward" a committee of four or five members who would go through the top bids. There will be a peer review of the studies.

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