By Adam R Jacobson and Adrian Zupp
RBR + TVBR
“To reverse, overturn, overrule, annul, nullify, void, invalidate, et. al.”
That’s the official definition of the word “rescind” — a word that has proven popular by the FCC’s Media Bureau.
In two major moves Friday (2/3) that largely scratch what the Commission’s Media Bureau had etched in not-so-permanent marker under a Democratic Chairman, acting Media Bureau Chief Michelle Carey did the following:
- The FCC’s guidance, issued March 2014, on the processing of applications for certain broadcast television shared agreements — including the commonly seen Joint Sales Agreement (JSA), was rescinded. At the time, former Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake released a Public Notice to give guidance to the industry about how the Bureau will process pending and future proposed broadcast television transactions. “In the interest of transparency, we hope that all interested entities will find it helpful for us to identify publicly a concern that has arisen in our review of proposed transactions in recent months and years and that will enter into our future transaction reviews. That concern relates to the combination in a transaction of operational agreements of various types along with contingent financial interests or financing relationships,” he said. The March 2014 guidance to broadcasters on JSAs was met with dissent by Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly and by Wilkinson, Barker, Knauer Partner David Oxenford.
- A January Media Bureau order regarding political ad disclosure complaints was rescinded. The Commission’s Jan. 6 order resolved complaints against a host of television broadcast companies alleging failure to maintain required information in their political files. Scott Flick, an attorney at Pillsbury, slammed the Commission for what he said was a hurried move to get the order done before a change in command at the FCC. The Republican Commissioners agreed, and this led to Friday’s decision to nullify last month’s order. The complaints will now revert to “pending” for further considered by the Commission — without delegated rulemaking to the Media Bureau, which Republican Ajit Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly vehemently voiced dissent toward.
The station at issue in the political ad disclosure complaint is WCPO-TV in Cincinnati. In early October 2016, Scripps Chairman, President and CEO Rich Boehne denied any wrongdoing. The complaint claimed there was mischaracterization in the way the station handled its political advertising file and was filed by the Georgetown Law Institute for Public Representation on behalf of several nonprofit organizations.
Specifically, the complaint alleged that WCPO violated federal requirements about how stations should disclose information about the purchase of political advertisements. Boehne said many of the institute’s claims inaccurately allege that ad scheduling and other required information was missing.
In response to the FCC actions that rescinded the JSA guidance, NAB EVP/Communications Dennis Wharton said it is pleased that Chairman Pai “is eliminating unlawful and arbitrary processing guidelines governing broadcast joint sales and shared service agreements. These regulations unfairly punished smaller broadcasters attempting to conserve resources to reinvest in localism and high quality programming. Broadcasters vying to compete with increasingly consolidated pay TV giants should not be stymied by overly-burdensome regulation.”
On the rescinding of a Media Bureau order regarding political ad disclosure complaints, Wharton added, “The FCC made the correct decision today to rescind the Media Bureau’s unlawful order from earlier this year. The appropriate place for consideration of new rules and regulations is at the Commission level and not through orders applying to individual parties.”