Waters to FCC: Don't Wade Into Ownership Just Yet

Congresswoman Says Proposed Item Could Decrease Diversity, But Not Yet Sufficiently Vetted

The FCC continues to solicit comment from the public on media ownership and diversity, and Rep. Maxine Waters gave a piece of her mind to the chairman.

In a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski dated Wednesday (Dec. 20), she said she was concerned with reports that the commission intended to "revive some form of the same lax media cross ownership rules that the Third Circuit Court invalidated in July 2011."

In fact those reports are about a year old, ever since the chairman in fall 2011 signaled he was taking a similar approach to the loosening the newspaper-broadcast crossownership ban proposed by then Chairman Kevin Martin, the approach Waters was referring to.

The court did not take issue with the proposal so much as with how it was proposed--without sufficient vetting by the public--and with how it and separate diversity initiatives were--or more specifically, were not--justified by the commission.

Waters is a long-time consolidation critic and continued in that vein in her letter, opining that only a few companies own the major broadcast nets and the vast majority of the top 50 cable nets

She said the FCC should not proceed with a vote on the ownership proposal until it has analyzed the findings of a recent ownership report (the so-called 323 report) that found little improvement in minority or female station ownership and the impact on that diversity landscape of even more deregulatory changes.

As such, she joins a chorus of minority advocates who have called for diversity impact studies before a vote.

The chairman had wanted to vote the item by the end of the year, but has postponed it until at least early January after agreeing to 30 more days worth of comment on the 323 report.

FCC watchers are growing increasingly pessimistic about the chances for a January vote, and even broadcasters don't seem to be pushing that hard given that they see the changes as too few and are not happy with an additional change that would make some joint sales agreements attributable as ownership under local ownership caps.