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O’Rielly Blasts Media Ownership Rules

“The commission follows one nonsensical decision with another and is dragged into court over and over again”

“Incomprehensible and patently unfair.”

That’s how FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly describes media ownership rules that apply only to broadcasters and newspapers.

Speaking Tuesday to the International Broadcasters IdeaBank Conference in Buffalo, N.Y., the Republican commissioner lamented the FCC’s “misguided, partisan decision” in its recent and long-delayed quadrennial review of media ownership rules. He had made critical comments previously so these sentiments are not new, but his speech repeats and expands on his views in strong terms.

“You would think that the sea changes we have witnessed in the media space since the rules were last effectively updated in 1999 would dictate some major changes in the artificial market barriers initiated during the Johnson and Nixon Administrations,” he said, according to a copy of the speech supplied by his office.

“These rules may directly impact your business by constraining the permissible acquirers for stations, thus depressing station valuations. And they apply only to broadcasters and newspapers, exempting all of the other players that have emerged in the media scene, such as streaming music services or satellite radio,” he said. “Not that I would have any interest in extending the rules to other market segments, but it is incomprehensible and patently unfair that broadcasters alone should be kept on this particular regulatory leash while their competitors roam the radically-expanded landscape relatively free of commission interference.”

O’Rielly expressed hope that “at some point in my tenure,” the commission would “take a more realistic view” of the media market, including non-broadcast and non-newspaper competitors in its analysis. “An updated market definition could set the table for us to better promote localism, competition and diversity by thoughtfully removing outdated restrictions to media combinations.”

He said the commission has followed “one nonsensical decision with another” only to be dragged into court repeatedly. He predicted more Third Circuit court challenges and joked, “At this point maybe our Office of General Counsel should consider a branch office in Philadelphia?”

On the separate topic of AM revitalization, the commissioner noted that various proposals are outstanding; he said the FCC should act quickly on noncontroversial matters but said that the commission recently had received a bipartisan letter from the leaders of a House Homeland Security subcommittee, “urging the commission to steer away from any action that could impact the ability of FEMA to provide timely emergency alerts and warnings to the public,” and said FEMA had expressed similar concerns. “We will take these concerns very seriously as this issue develops.”

The International Broadcasters IdeaBank is a group of commercial radio broadcasters established to allow a confidential exchange of ideas. According to its website, the current membership of 100 station owners and managers run approximately 450 radio stations.