Watchdog orgs warn FCC on ownership rules

Advocates threaten legal action if commission accelerates process

Free Press president Craig Aaron warned Wednesday of new legal action if the Federal Communications Commission pursues plans to alter media ownership rules without further study and time for public comment.

Aaron took part in a conference call with the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Newspaper Guild-CWA, Asian American Justice Center, National Hispanic Media Coalition and ColorOfChange.org. All of the groups expressed concern that rules changes — particularly without further comment or hearings — would be a “travesty,” as Aaron put it, and diminish opportunities for minority ownership and localism in media.

As Free Press noted, last year a federal appeals court “instructed the FCC to study the impact of any rule changes on ownership diversity” before undertaking any further revision to cross-ownership parameters. The group cited data noting that less than 4% of TV stations are owned by minorities, and that women own less than 7 percent of U.S. broadcasters.

“If necessary, we’re prepared to sue the FCC again,” Aaron said, asking, “What is the rush to change these rules?”

Reports have indicated the FCC could act to revise the existing guidelines before the end of the year. This month FCC commissioner Robert M. McDowell, a Republican, told the Los Angeles Times, “There have been significant market changes, which everyone has to be recognizing at this point.”