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‘The Official Word Is: We Don’t Have a Clue’

FCC to broaden its data about race, ethnicity and gender among station owners, and plans more changes that could affect noncoms and LPFMs

The Federal Communications Commission wants to know more about the race, ethnicity and gender of radio and TV station owners.

The data it has now is old and incomplete, commissioners said this week as they adopted an order to broaden reporting requirements so the agency can assess more accurately the state of minority and female-owned stations.

“The official word is: We don’t have a clue,” said Acting Chairman Michael Copps as the FCC voted 3–0 to make the change. “If we’re going to be a data-driven agency, we need better data and cannot rely on outside parties with their own interests” to provide the information.

The FCC adopted changes to reporting requirements on FCC Form 323, “Ownership Report for Commercial Broadcast Stations,” filed now by full-power commercial AM, FM and television broadcasters to identify their organizational and ownership structures and to provide information on owners’ race, ethnicity and gender.

While the full details of the changes are not yet public, so far the FCC has said reporting changes include dropping the filing exemptions applicable to full-power commercial stations owned by individuals or partnerships of people (rather than partnerships made up of companies). LPTV and Class A television stations are now required to file ownership information on Form 323.

Owners must now give the FCC more information on all their attributable broadcast holdings, though the agency has not changed its attribution rules.

Owners must file Form 323 by Nov. 1. Information must be current as of Oct. 1.

The commissioners also voted on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to expand the scope of station owners who must file race, gender and ethnicity information.

Robert Ratcliffe, temporarily acting as Copps’ liaison to the Media Bureau, told Radio World that noncommercial stations and low-power FMs are exempt from reporting requirements now because their ownership rules are different from those of commercial stations. In the NPRM, the FCC proposes dropping the Form 323 exemptions for non-coms and LPFMs.

“You need to know what the present state (of minority and female station ownership) is in order to see if remedies are necessary,” he said. Possible remedies to increase ownership diversity might include frequency auction benefits or application preferences, he said.

The commission has re-chartered its broadcast diversity panel and hopes members will make recommendations to the FCC on this issue, Copps told reporters after the meeting.