More media regulations are on the chopping block at the Federal Communications Commission — and it’s about time, says Commissioner Michael O’Rielly in a blog post previewing the FCC’s plans for the coming months.
Up first is the commission plan to nix the main studio rule during its Oct. 24 Open Meeting. This widely discussed Report and Order would eliminate the broadcast main studio rule, which currently requires each AM, FM, and television broadcast station to maintain a main studio near its community of license.
Adoption of the Report and Order would also serve to:
● Eliminate other requirements associated with the main studio rule, including the requirement that the main studio have full-time management and staff present during normal business hours, and that it have program origination capability;
● Retain the existing requirement that broadcasters maintain a local or toll-free telephone number to ensure that community members retain the ability to communicate with and obtain information regarding their local stations;
● Require stations to maintain any portion of the public file that is not part of the online public file at a publicly accessible location within the station’s community of license so community members have local access to public files when necessary
This move is one step in several that the FCC is taking to modify or eliminate what O’Rielly called “unnecessary media regulations.” He also pointed to possible future elimination of some FCC form submissions and updates to public notice requirements for certain broadcast applications.
“If a form is not needed, it should be eliminated,” O’Rielly wrote. “If a study is duplicative or useless, it should be junked. When public notice requirements are outdated, at the very least they should be modified. And when FCC rules are no longer necessary, they should be removed from our books.”
That applies to the commission’s media ownership rules, too, he said. It is time for the commission to properly reconsider its media ownership rules, particularly those written from a bygone era that are not serving the public interest, but are instead frustrating it, O’Rielly said. “The competitive and diverse atmosphere we find ourselves in today warrants less regulation, not more.”
Platform lines have blurred in today’s modern media marketplace, and broadcasters and newspapers should not be stifled in their efforts to compete in today’s environment, O’Rielly said — making an effort to address the elephant in the room, without actually naming the elephant.
“There is currently a merger pending before the commission that some argue will benefit from, and is the reason for, any changes to our media ownership rules,” he wrote, referring obliquely to the merger between Tribune Media and Sinclair Broadcast Group without naming it by name.
“Let me be clear: this transaction is in no way the catalyst for FCC action on these issues,” he wrote. “I have been calling for media ownership reform since joining the commission and as a staffer in the U.S. Senate before that. It’s not a new position or reaction to a pending application.”
Among the changes he’d like to see include better definition of today’s current media markets, which should include newspapers, radio stations and television stations as well as MVPDs, over-the-top providers, internet sites, social media platforms, streaming music services, and satellite radio.
“Once we accurately acknowledge the market we are regulating, we can have an honest debate about what rules ultimately make sense,” he wrote.
He also is in favor of eliminating cross-ownership bans. “Eliminating the restrictions on newspaper/radio, radio/television, and newspaper/television combinations is a crucial step,” he wrote. “Previous commissions and bipartisan legislation from Congress already recognized the need for an update. It’s time to act.”
It’s also time to eliminate the duopoly rule. “In many markets, duopolies or even triopolies could strengthen the overall state of broadcasting and allow stations to concentrate more resources on bringing more and higher quality local content to their viewers,” he wrote.
The commission’s monthly meetings, which are open to the public, can also be viewed live online.