FCC data questioned

Agency clueless about minority-owned media

The Federal Communications Commission is virtually clueless about the state of minority-owned media because the agency’s data are unreliable, a new government report has claimed.

As a result, neither the FCC nor Congress is capable of effectively addressing what is roundly believed to be a lamentable situation regarding broadcast stations owned and operated by women and minorities, the General Accountability Office said.

The GAO report, released Friday, recommended that the commission improve its ownership data collection and management systems.

“FCC collects data on the gender, race and ethnicity of radio and television station owners biennially,” the report stated. “However, we found that these data suffer from three weaknesses: (1) exemptions from filing for certain types of broadcast stations, such as noncommercial stations; (2) inadequate data quality procedures; and (3) problems with data storage and retrieval.”

Acknowledging that industry insiders agree that the number of broadcast outlets owned and operated by minorities and women is sharply limited, the report noted recent studies by watchdog group Free Press, which show that minorities own maybe 3% of full-power TV stations, women 5%.

The report cited three principal barriers to more ownership by minorities and women.

  • The large scale of ownership in the media industry

  • A lack of easy access to sufficient capital for financing the purchases of stations

  • The repeal of the tax certificate program, which allowed for the deferral of capital gains taxes on the sale of broadcast outlets and thereby provided financial incentives for incumbents to sell stations to minorities

    “Because more accurate, complete and reliable data would allow the FCC to better assess the impact of its rules and regulations and allow Congress to make more informed legislative decisions, we are recommending that FCC take steps to improve the reliability and accessibility of its data on the gender, race, and ethnicity of broadcast outlet owners,” the report said.

    “I am particularly concerned that the GAO found that the FCC does not have a reliable data set to describe the current state of diversity in broadcast ownership,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) in a statement. “If we are to foster further diversity in media ownership, we first need sound and reliable facts about the current state of affairs.”

    Monica Desai, chief of the FCC Media Bureau, responded that the FCC has already initiated an open inquiry into how it can improve its ownership data. That step was one of four adopted last December, Desai said, all intended to foster more opportunity for minorities and women and small businesses in general in broadcast media ownership.

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