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Media Ownership Vote Paused

The chairman agrees to MMTC request for further media ownership study, comment period

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has agreed to delay a vote on the media ownership proceeding.

We’ve reported the Minority Media Telecommunications Council wanted to hire BIA to study of whether, and to what extent, any changes to the commission’s cross-ownership rules might have on minority and women station ownership.

MMTC has now hired BIA to conduct the study, and tells the commission its main focus will be on the advertising market. The study will be completed in eight weeks and MMTC would submit the findings to the FCC; it suggests the agency take public comment on the study and then finalize a vote after that.

The chairman wants media ownership changes that would stand up in court, noting in a statement that, “In this heavily litigated area where a strong record is particularly important, I believe this is a sensible approach to moving forward and resolving the issues raised in this proceeding.”

Several minority groups and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, too, had urged the agency to consider a further study.

NAB told the commission “there’s potential merit in additional data-gathering” on the issue, but “such a brief delay” should not lead to a “lengthy delay in the resolution of the already overdue quadrennial review.”

Commissioner Robert McDowell went along with a delay but hopes “this most recent pause in our progress” on the issue is the last one, noting that “Not only did Congress intend for us to eliminate obsolete rules once more competition becomes evident, but it also meant for us to act with alacrity in our review.”

Public interest group Free Press welcomed the delay but pointed out that MMTC has previously endorsed ending the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban. The group said an industry-backed study is no substitute for independent research.

The chairman previously circulated a draft order that would keep the bulk of existing ownership rules in place, including the existing local radio limits. He proposed eliminating the radio-newspaper and TV-radio cross-ownership bans.

Broadcasters and the newspaper industry call the bans archaic while opponents, like some civil rights and public interest groups, fear relaxing the bans would lead to more media consolidation and harm minority and women media ownership.

Of the delay and new study, a senior commission official said: “This is a strategy to move towards a successful vote and strengthen the commission’s position in court.”