Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Organizations Ask FCC Not To Delay Date For Collecting Ownership Information

By John Eggerton

Delaying process of collecting more detailed information from station owners would hurt other parties, the public

A group of organizations, including ownership diversity fans Common Cause, Free Press, and United Church of Christ, have asked the FCC not to delay the Dec. 15 date for collecting more and more detailed ownership information from station owners.

Expanding reporting requirements were part of then acting FCC Comissioner Michael Copps' effort to tee up minority ownership reforms by collecting more and better data on just who owns what.

In a filing with the FCC Monday, the groups were opposing a motion for a stay filed last week by Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth which told the FCC the changes it made to the form earlier this year were an "unexpected revision...inappropriately adopted." They require more information, including social security numbers from anyone with an interest, attributable or not, in a broadcast property.

United Church of Christ et al. says wrong on both counts, and a few more as well.

They say the law firm is not a party to the proceeding and did not comply with the rules regarding filing stay motions. As for argument's merit about the revision being unexpected and that there could be irreparable harm from providing all those SS numbers, the groups said there wasn't any to either argument. "Their SSN's will at all times be protected from public disclosure," said the filing, and the FCC "published a general notice of its intent to revise the form 323 form," they said, and provided plenty of opportunity for comment.

The FCC did not specify those changes, but the groups said it didn't have to. The APA [Administrative Procedures Act] does not require the FCC to spell out that filers would need an FRN [FCC Registration Number] in the NPRM [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking], because it is either a logical outgrowth of the proposal or an internal FCC process exempt from public notice."

Delaying the process, the groups say, would "hurt" other parties and the public.

"Now that the FCC has a system designed to obtain accurate and complete data on minority and female ownership, it would be unconscionable to countenance any further delay," they say. "Moreover, the FCC, researchers, and the public need this information to fulfill the Commission’s obligations in the 2010 Quadrennial Review of the ownership rules."

Fletcher Heald has an ally in the Minority Media & Telecommunidations Council. While that group backs enhanced disclosure, it is not happy with requiring Social Security Numbers.

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