First Media wins PTAR hearing

The Federal Communications Commission agreed Wednesday to respond to a 4 -year-old petition asking it to repeal the primetime access rule, which prohibits top-50-market network affiliates from airing off-net fare in the hour leading into primetime.

Within the next month, it will invite public comment on a petition from First Media L.P. to jettison the venerable regulation as a violation of broadcasters’ First Amendment rights. After reviewing the comments, it will “consider initiating a proceeding to assess the continuing need for the primetime access rule,” it said.

The schedule was presented in a filing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which is weighing First Media’s suit against the FCC for ignoring its request. The company contends the delay has been “egregious,” even for an agency known for its deliberateness.

The FCC defended its inaction, insisting it’s been pondering the financial interest and syndication rule — a far more complex and controversial proceeding. It makes sense to defer consideration of PTAR until fin-syn appeals have been exhausted, the FCC said.

But it told the court that before April 22 it will seek comment on the First Media petition as well as other pending requests for repeal of the access rule and its various aspects. It said initial comments filed in response to the petition are “no longer current” in light of its fin-syn regs. It specifically invited comment on whether the new fin-syn policy would affect the need or desire for PTAR.

Following an evaluation of comments, an inquiry would explore the public-interest implications of the rule, its status in light of industry changes and constitutional challenges raised by First Media.

It said the schedule would allow any subsequent rulemaking to be coordinated with a proceeding to examine whether the closely related fin-syn rules should remain in effect beyond November 1995.

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