Non-comms to FCC: Don’t call it ownership


Public television and radio stations say they support the FCC’s goal of promoting diversity, but that it makes no sense to lump non-commercial stations into the same calculations with commercial broadcasters because their stations don’t really have “owners” in the same sense. Meanwhile, the NAB is asking the FCC to turn back plans to make sole proprietors file biennial ownership reports.

A joint filing by The Association of Public Television Stations (APTS), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), noted that public stations would have no problem providing the genders and ethnicities of the individuals listed on Form 323-E (the educational station variation of the ownership Form 323 filed by commercial broadcasters), but cautioned the FCC that no one, including those individuals, holds an equity interest in an educational station, and the information would not provide a meaningful representation of the role of minorities and women in a station’s programming and services. And since the concept of ownership is so different for public stations, they argued that “it would be unhelpful, and potentially misleading,” to combine the data of non-commercial and commercial stations if the FCC is seeking a “comprehensive picture of broadcast ownership.”

The non-comms also warned against any new reporting requirements that would further strain the already-stretched financial resources of public broadcasting stations.

A similar filing by a long list of public broadcasting station licensees made similar arguments and insisted that collecting ownership data from educational stations “will do nothing to enhance the picture of broadcast ownership in the United States.” 

From the LPFM side, where stations are by definition non-commercial, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters and Prometheus Radio Project applauded the idea of gathering information about gender and ethnicity. However, they warned against any undue paperwork burden and suggested a base fine of only $500 for LPFMs who fail to file the proper forms.

The FCC has already moved to make sole proprietors file biennial ownership reports just like those already required for corporate licensees. The National Association of Broadcasters has petitioned the Commission to reconsider that, since the race or gender of a sole proprietor, which is reported at the time they obtain the license, cannot change like the composition of a corporation’s board or investor ownership. NAB argues that biennial filings would be an undue burden on sole proprietors, who often lack the staffing that group owners have for regulatory compliance. NAB also argued against requiring information about certain non-attributable interest holders, since they do not have an influence over operations of the licensee.