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Ownership Data Subject of FCC Petition

cbyerlys Icon Posted by Carolyn Byerly

February 5th, 2011

I was among more than 20 individuals and 25 organizations to petition the FCC’s Media Bureau on February 2nd to make public the current ownership data, with respect to women and minorities, for broadcast stations in the US.

The letter bearing our signatures asked FCC Chairman Julius Genakowski and Commissioners Michael J. Copps, Robert M. McDowell, Mignon Clyburn, and Meredith Attwell Baker to release ownership data, which contains gender and race information. The FCC has not made such data available since 2006.

Professor Angela Campbell, director of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown Law School, and her staff prepared the letter on behalf of major civil rights and media reform groups, public interest attorneys, and activist media scholars like myself.

To the commission’s credit, its Media Bureau, in 2009, adopted changes to Form 323 that I and others had recommended. Among the changes I had asked for (both in writing and in meetings with Media Bureau staff) was a shift from paper to electronic filing, and modifications to make the form more complete in what it requested. Data from those forms were to have lent themselves more easily to processing and to posting for public access in a searchable format on the FCC website.

But the original filing deadline of November 1, 2009, was delayed by legal interventions by the broadcast industry that did not want certain information to be made public. Angela Campbell and her legal staff, supported by a broad coalition of us, continued to press for filing, and the Commission set January 11, 2010, as the new filing date. Most stations appear to have filed by several months later, in July, 2010.

Women’s and minorities’ ownership has dwindled under de-regulation. My own and other research from 2006 shows that women and people of color own fewer than 6% of full-power radio and television stations today. The FCC has long recognized this as a problem. In 1998, it enacted measures to require race and gender to be included on Broadcast Ownership Form 323, which must be filed on a regular schedule. The Commission is required legally to “promote opportunities for small businesses and businesses owned by women and minorities in the broadcasting industry” by amendments to the Communications Act of 1934.

Acknowledgments and legal mandates aside, the Commission has done little to promote public awareness, to provide current searchable data on a regular basis, or to adopt rules that would in any way expand the possibilities for women and those of non-white races to own broadcast media in the United States. This is not to say that individual commissioners have not led a spirited fight to intervene on the public’s behalf. I have been inspired by present Commissioners Michael J. Copps and Mignon Clyburn, and by former Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein to make FCC responsible to those whose ownership – and voices – remain marginalized.

I urge readers to submit a clear, brief statement of support for making the Form 323 data available to the public. You can do this at the FCC’s web page for fining comments. The proceedings number to enter (in the field at the top of the form) is 07-294.

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