Media Ownership Looking Like a November Meeting No-Show

Item Likely Not on Nov. 30 agenda, but Circulated for Commissioners' Vote before Year's End

It is looking like the FCC's media ownership vote will not make it onto the FCC's November agenda after all. While multiple commission sources had said the signal out of the chairman's office was that it would be circulated for a vote Nov. 30, according to those same multiple sources, it was looking less likely at presstime, though there is still an outside shot.

Hurricane Sandy may have blown that timetable off course a bit, but it may also be that the chairman is still figuring out where all the other officers are on the item.

The chairman is still expected to circulate the media ownership order, but not until sometime next week at the earliest, too late to make the agenda for the Nov. 30 meeting, which is being circulated Friday. That means it could either be voted by the commissioners before the December meeting, or be added to that meeting. The chairman has said he wanted to vote the item by the end of the year.  

The commission has been reviewing its rules in response to a quadrennial congressional obligation to do so, and a court order from the Third Circuit. According to sources, broadcasters have been beating a path to commission staffers' doors lately to talk about media ownership issues, including broadcasters hoping the FCC would go all in on cross-ownership and lift, rather than loosen, the TV/newspaper ban.

If the order follows the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking the commissioners approved last December, it will scrap the radio/TV cross-ownership rules, essentially preserve the FCC's attempted loosening of the newspaper/TV cross-ownership rules, which the FCC tried to do under Republican chairman Kevin Martin, but leave in place the radio and TV local market ownership caps.

The Media Bureau is said to be essentially finished with its biennial 323 form report based on information filed by broadcasters on their attributable ownership interests in radio and TV stations. According to sources, the chairman has also circulated tweaks to the form for the next report.

One FCC source said they were surprised the 323 report had not already been released.

If the commission does vote the item, it will have done so without completing diversity studies in response to the Third Circuit's issues with how it justified diversity initiatives undertaken by the commission under Kevin Martin. But sources point out the 323 report that informs the quadrennial review includes diversity info as well, and that the order will separate the quadrennial review issues from the Third Circuit diversity issues that still need to be addressed. "They are related but they don't have to be tied together," said one commission staffer, "and the chairman's office will try to address diversity to a limited degree in the quadrennial."